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For now, the only reliable way to deliver aid to those affected by the earthquake in Syria, is to contact the Syrians you trust abroad to ensure that donations are sent to those in need.
Twelve years after the ongoing crisis started, on 6 February 2023, Syria woke up to a devastating earthquake with, at the time of writing, over 3200 casualties across the country.
The disaster, measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, piled new unbearable ordeals onto the Syrians’ sufferings. The earthquake was the strongest to hit the region in the past 28 years. It hit south Turkey and mid and north Syria, and its aftershocks expanded to the Middle East. A few hours later, another 7.5 magnitude tremor hit the same region, in addition to several terrible aftershocks.
As of 7 February, the number of destroyed buildings reported in regime-controlled areas is over 200, while over 130 were reported in regions beyond the regime’s control. According to 9 February data, the number of casualties across northwest Syria and government-controlled areas stands at 3262, while 7285 were injured.
Many are trapped under the rubble due to the state’s limited capabilities and lack of equipment. Rescue missions using heavy machinery in Aleppo, where there are 52 disaster areas, were halted as cries for help from those buried under the rubble were heard by rescue teams that did not have specialised teams to save them manually.
Roger Mawson, a researcher for the British Geological Survey, said people sleeping were “trapped as their houses collapsed” because the housing in the region “does not really correspond to an area at risk of violent earthquakes.” Volcanologist Carmen Solana stated that “infrastructure resistance is not uniform. Therefore, saving lives now depends on the speed of relief.”
A Horrible Situation
Medical teams are confronted by a tragic situation in areas where rescue teams work to save people from the rubble. For example, in the al-Raml district of Latakia, home to many squatted settlements, a seven-floor building collapsed on its residents. The district’s residents are still trying to save those buried under the collapsed building.
One survivor wrote on her Facebook profile, “This was the hardest moment of my life. My sister died in my arms under the rubble. My mother died too. My father kept talking to me and begging me to stay alive. My father and I survived, but I lost everything.”
One of the on-site civil rescuers stated, “We are trying to get those trapped under the rubble out. They are our sisters, brothers and neighbours. We cannot leave them like that. As much as we are thrilled when we save someone, we grieve when we find a corpse under the rubble.”
He added, “One of the people trapped asked us for a saw to cut a piece of wood that fell on his mother. Unfortunately, we could not get to him fast enough to save her.”
This tragic scene is not an exception, as the same catastrophe has befallen the al-Kallasah, al-Sha’ar and Seif al-Dawlah districts in Aleppo.
Many Syrians panicked. A survivor said, “These 40 seconds when the earthquake hit were more difficult than all the past years of the crisis. When the building started cracking, my life flashed before my eyes, and I felt I would die. At the time, and after a glimpse, I knew it was the end. But I survived.”
The situation has not only affected people in Syria. Many of their relatives and friends in Europe are in tremendous mental distress. A resident of Sweden told Fanack, “My parents are still under the rubble. I cannot go there. All I can do is call my neighbours and beg them to keep looking for my father and mother. They are still calling from underneath the rubble.”
Mobilisation and Urgent Campaigns
Immediately after the earthquake, civil society in Damascus and the Syrian governorates mobilised. Associations, initiatives and organisations announced countless immediate and urgent campaigns.
Besides a support team of volunteers to help with the rescue missions, the Saaed Society organisation, for example, sent its first convoys with collected in-kind aid to afflicted areas, including Aleppo, Jableh in Latakia and Hama.
Concurrently, the Ahmed Project launched the #One_Heart campaign as an emergency response to gather in-kind aid in Damascus for the affected governorates. Similarly, the medical initiative Akamha Syria, on 7 February 2022, dispatched its first convoys with in-kind aid to Aleppo.
Initiatives were launched to raise money in Damascus for the disaster areas by other associations, including Ghiras, Tamayoz, al-Nada Charity, Hifzalnema, the Union of Charitable Associations, al-Anssar Charity, Ammrha, Konaws Team and the Syria Trust for Development.
A group of activists confirmed to Fanack that this civil mobilisation proves the unity of the Syrians. One activist said, “We know we are all alone in this world. The international community is silent and reluctant to provide humanitarian aid because of the sanctions imposed on Syria.”
On the other hand, Syrian activists have condemned the separation of Syria’s north from the rest of the stricken areas in terms of the unfair distribution of aid and donations. In this regard, the Nation Building Movement issued a statement to all social and political forces, demanding to declare Syria a disaster area. It also called on the Syrian government to set aside political conflicts and provide all possible help to the regions beyond its control.
Khaled Hboubati, the president of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, said that the organisation seeks to help all those in need. He added, “We are ready to send an aid convoy through the frontline to the affected areas in the Idlib region in northern Syria if they open a road for us.”
After seeing the afflicted areas, journalist Mostafa Ridwan told Fanack that the situation was catastrophic. He said that the term “disaster area” is no exaggeration, noting that the country’s health sector is already in tatters. According to Ridwan, the number of medical personnel is insufficient to deal with a disaster of this kind.
He pointed out that some people used hammers and primitive tools to clear the rubble. Some victims remain trapped for an entire day. He added that the destruction of buildings in Jableh, Latakia and Aleppo was tremendous. He mentioned that rescue missions were only halted in Hama as the concerned parties announced that all rescue missions had been completed.
Ridwan stressed the urgency of transporting humanitarian aid by air, calling to set aside political stances in the face of this immense humanitarian crisis.
“From what I have seen, I can tell that the injured whose houses collapsed or were about to collapse took refuge in streets, mosques and playgrounds. They need food, medicine and heating, especially infant formula and blankets,” Ridwan said.
On the other hand, through talks with other Syrian journalists who saw the affected areas, Fanack found out that students from other cities are trapped inside disaster areas, waiting to catch any flight out.
A Campaign to lift Sanctions
Syrians suffer greatly from the international sanctions imposed on Syria, as was confirmed in a recent report by Dr Alena Douhan, the UN special rapporteur.
She asserts that unilateral sanctions “hinder the provision of critical services including water, electricity, heating, transportation, shelter and education, the repatriation of Syrian refugees and internally displaced people, and vaccinations.”
According to the report, these sanctions “prevent the implementation of academic, cultural and environmental projects and the maintenance and restoration of the tangible and non-tangible heritage of the Syrian people. Thus, having a devastating effect on the whole population and on the functioning of civil society.” Sanctions also have a devastating effect on nearly all categories of human rights.
Douhan pointed out that the efforts of NGOs and humanitarian actors are obstructed because of the sanctions since they hinder bank transfers and humanitarian access. According to Douhan, this is due to the over-compliance of banks, carriers and insurance companies to the sanctions. Additionally, the delivery of aid and bank transfers often requires multiple derogations or verification of exemptions.
In this context, she says, “The refusal of banks and producers of medicine, raw materials, medical equipment, spare parts, software and vaccines to approve bank transfers for Syria or Syrian beneficiaries or by Syrians without letters of comfort results in the shortage of medicine and medical equipment.”
She ends her report emphasising that “the protection of human rights in Syria is not possible without rebuilding all critical infrastructure and services in cooperation with UN agencies and with continuing and unconditional humanitarian assistance.”
She adds, “Maintaining unilateral sanctions amid the current catastrophic and still-deteriorating situation in Syria may amount to crimes against humanity against all Syrian people.”
After the earthquake, local campaigns emerged calling for the lifting of sanctions against the Syrian people to facilitate the delivery of equipment to save those trapped under collapsed buildings. Moreover, Syrian activists are urging the international community that is delivering aid to Turkey not to forget Syria.
It is worth noting that some Arab states, including Iraq, Algeria, Tunisia, and the UAE, have abandoned the sanctions and sent humanitarian aid to Syria. This aid, however, is not sufficient to remedy the tragic situation.
Obstacles to Donation
On the morning of 7 February 2022, all donation links created by local Syrian NGOs were suspended without warning, possibly due to the sanctions.
For now, the only reliable way to deliver aid to those affected is to contact the Syrians you trust abroad to ensure that donations are sent to those in need.