1. Introduction

  2. Assessment

  3. Activities

Informal Settlements / Assessment

What are Informal Settlements?

The short formal answer that is given by anyone in Aleppo who is asked “what are informal settlements” is “they are illegal”. ‘Illegal’ basically means one or several characteristics:

  • The ownership of the land is in dispute and/or is not legally registered
  • The settlement is in contravention of the master-plan land use zoning regulations
  • Planning standards  are not met
  • Dwellings are constructed in contravention of building standards and regulations

However, the term ‘informal settlement’ also tends to convey overtones of pejorative social stigma, such as: ‘criminality’, ‘social deprivation’, ‘unhealthy and disease ridden’, ‘uneducated’, ‘lack of civic awareness and anti-social behavior’. Whilst such attributes exist in some informal settlements (as well as some formal settlements) in Aleppo, in no way can they be attributed as inherent characteristics of all informal settlements. On the contrary, there is significant evidence of law-abiding, upwardly mobile, socially cohesive communities in many informal settlements in the city, also of well laid-out and safely constructed neighborhoods. There are, of course, others that are not.

How are Informal Settlement Formed?

There are many processes by which low income groups gain access to housing in Aleppo. However, they fall into three main categories:

  • Land grabbing or squatting on undeveloped land.
  • The purchase of subdivided peri-urban (agricultural) land.
  • Densification of existing settlements - by adding floors.

What are the Types of Informal Settlements?

There are four broad categories of IS in Aleppo:

  • Upper-income group, illegal settlements
  • Safe, medium density low-income settlements
  • Unsafe, high density low-income settlements
  • Mixed safe and unsafe high to medium density settlements

What’s the Growth Rate of Informal Settlements?

Aleppo has a population of some 2.4 million of which almost half are estimated to live in 22 informal settlements (IS) of different types and sizes . The city grew dramatically in the 1970s and early ’80s largely through migration from small towns and rural areas mostly in Eastern Syria. This has subsequently slowed down and the city’s growth rate is currently estimated to be 2.9% per year with projections for a further drop to 2.6% over the coming decade.

However, it may be assumed that the greater part of the growth through migration is amongst the lower income groups, the majority of whom populate the city’s informal settlements. Thus it is likely that the informal settlements are currently growing at some 4.0% per year. That is by some 48,000 people per year or 8,000 households per year – requiring some 150 new dwellings per week in informal settlements.



  • (All Types) Affordable housing with reasonably secure tenure
  • (All Types) Community solidarity and some degree of community organization
  • (Type 02) Capital asset with an appreciating value
  • (Type 03) High land values


  • (All Types) Inadequate infrastructure (water, sanitation, etc) 
  • (All Types) Limited access to services (education, health, etc) ill health low productivity
  • (All Types) Inadequate amenities (public open space, etc) 
  • (All Types) No registered title to property reduced value of asset
  • (All Types) Social stigma associated with living in IS economic and social marginalization


  • (All Types) Development of community organisations and neighbourhood management capacities
  • (All Types) Integration into the society and economy of the city
  • (Type 02) Limited expansion/extension of properties and services
  • (Type 02) Realisation of capital assets
  • (Type 03) Possible benefit from high land values


  • (All Types) Relocation as part of urban renewal programs
  • (Type 02) Uncontrolled over-development (becoming unsafe Type 3)
  • (Type 03) Structural collapse disastrous loss of life

Rapid Profiles of All Informal Settlements in Aleppo

Please click on the IS Profiles button below to download our study of all informal settlements in Aleppo.  The objective of this document  is to provide a qualitative overview of conditions, problems and opportunities in informal settlements in Aleppo.

IS Profiles - PDF (3.1 MB)