Lebanon: Thousands in Tripoli living in unsafe housing a year on from devastating earthquakes

Thousands of people in the northern city of Tripoli are living in unsafe buildings that pose a risk to their right to adequate housing and right to life amid government indifference more than one year after the devastating earthquakes that ravaged large parts of Turkey and Syria and damaged buildings in Lebanon, said Amnesty International today. 

In a new briefing, Lebanon: “We are not safe here”: Government fails people living in buildings at risk of collapse in Tripoli, the organization found that even before the earthquakes, residents in Tripoli had raised the alarm about their dire housing situation, caused by decades of neglect and contractors’ lack of compliance with safety regulations, and compounded by a devastating economic crisis that has robbed residents of the means to afford repairs or alternative housing. 

The earthquakes exacerbated existing structural issues, posing additional risks to residents. However, the government has failed to carry out comprehensive surveys of buildings at risk or provide support to residents and instead, the authorities’ interventions have been limited to serving eviction notice, and in some cases, fines. 

“The Lebanese government has drastically failed in its responsibility to establish a clear plan to repair damaged buildings and ensure that residents are offered support, including compensation and alternative housing where applicable. This is despite incomplete municipal-level surveys that have concluded the buildings were indeed unsafe and could collapse at any moment,” said Amnesty International’s Lebanon researcher, Sahar Mandour.

“The right to adequate housing is a human right. It is shameful that residents in the city with the highest poverty rate in Lebanon have been left to fend for themselves and in some cases were handed eviction notices. The government’s neglect and sheer lack of preparedness means that a year after the earthquakes, thousands are forced to make an impossible choice every day about whether to continue living in an unsafe home or face destitution.”

The right to adequate housing is a human right. It is shameful that residents in the city with the highest poverty rate in Lebanon have been left to fend for themselves and in some cases were handed eviction notices.

Sahar Mandour, Amnesty International’s Lebanon researcher

In the last six months alone, eight people in Lebanon have been killed after their buildings collapsed. On 11 February, a five-storey building collapsed in Choueifat south of Beirut. The building began to shake 15 minutes before it collapsed, giving residents enough time to evacuate. 

The interior of a house at risk of collapse in the Old Souk of Tripol, Lebanon, on April 3, 2023. ©Amnesty International

In a 2022 survey, the municipality of Tripoli concluded that 236 buildings were at risk of collapse. In August 2023, six months after the earthquake, the municipality said it had identified 800 to 1,000 buildings at risk, more than four times the number before the earthquakes.

Amnesty International researchers conducted field visits to the neighborhoods of El-Tal and Zehrieh, the Old Souk, Al-Qubbeh and Dahr El-Maghar in Tripoli in April 2023, where the team interviewed 13 families living in buildings the local municipality had classified as at risk of collapse. The researchers conducted follow-up interviews with 12 of those families in December 2023. The organization also spoke to national and local government representatives as well as civil society organizations. 

Immediately after the earthquakes, the government tasked municipalities with conducting surveys of unsafe buildings and reporting back to the Ministry of Interior within 72 hours. The caretaker Prime Minister also authorized the Higher Relief Council, a governmental body formed in 1976 responsible for receiving relief donations and distributing them to people in need, with distributing 30 million Lebanese liras (around 320 US dollars) as a “housing allowance” for people living in unsafe buildings to cover rent for three months, during which they are expected to repair their homes or find a more sustainable solution, at their own expense. 

A year later, all residents interviewed by Amnesty International said that they continued to live in homes that were severely damaged because they could not afford to repair them or find alternative housing. The government did not complete the survey of unsafe buildings, and only one person interviewed by Amnesty International was aware of the 320 US dollar housing allowance. 

We were able to save my wife, we rescued her first. By the time we got to my daughter, she was dead.

Khaled Diko, whose daughter Jumana, 5, was killed in a building collapse in 2022

Tripoli is one of Lebanon’s most marginalized cities, and it is home the highest concentration of unsafe buildings in the country. On 18 September 2023, an uninhabited, three-storey historic building in al-Zehrieh neighbourhood collapsed, reigniting residents’ safety fears. In June 2022, five-year-old Jumana Diko was killed when a building in Tripoli’s Dahr El-Maghar collapsed. Her father Khaled said: “We were able to save my wife, we rescued her first. By the time we got to my daughter, she was dead.” Seven months before this tragedy, in October 2021, sisters Sabah and Hayat El-Zohbi died after the balcony of their old family house in Al-Qubbeh neighborhood collapsed. 

A building classified by the municipality as at risk of collapse, near El-Tal square in Tripoli, Lebanon., on April 3, 2023. ©Amnesty International

Government failures have been compounded by years of mismanagement and corruption, and a devastating economic crisis that has plunged over 75% of the population into poverty in the absence of a functioning social protection system. The majority of buildings in Lebanon fail to meet minimum safety standards.

“The Lebanese government must urgently fulfil its obligations and protect the right to safe and adequate housing, despite the economic crisis. It should immediately take steps to ensure the safety and right to housing of those living in buildings deemed to be at risk of collapse,” said Sahar Mandour.

“This includes speeding up the national survey of at-risk buildings, repairing damaged homes, informing residents about their rights to temporary housing allowance, providing alternative housing for those who are unable to provide for themselves – all through a process of genuine consultation with the affected people.”