On February 6, 2023, a devastating earthquake struck parts of Turkey and Syria that left more than 47,000 dead and more than 80,000 injured, with numbers still expected to keep rising. The 7.8 magnitude earthquake greatly impacted the town of Gaziantep in south-eastern Turkey and northern Syria. An aftershock followed that caused almost as much damage as the first and the Middle East region felt it throughout. With a fault line of around 62 miles, the earthquake is one of the deadliest of the last 20 years, thus causing serious damage to buildings and maximum casualties with the Turkey-Syria earthquake occurring early in the morning, when people were still asleep.
The Impact of the Turkey-Syria Earthquake
In Turkey, reports have indicated that more than 41,000 died as of early February, with more than 5,800 in Syria. Rescue teams continued searching through the ruins of the nearly 7,000 buildings that have collapsed for survivors more than a week after the earthquake took place in Turkey. Almost no buildings in the cities remained intact, due to the large scale of the impact, with as many as 5.3 million people in Syria losing their homes and experiencing displacement. About 3,000 people managed to find temporary accommodation, with 380,000 seeking shelter in schools and education facilities. The region had not faced a major earthquake in more than 200 years and was vastly unprepared for the disaster.
The biggest worry, however, is for northwestern Syria, where 12 years of conflict has already left 4 million people displaced and heavily reliant on aid and humanitarian assistance. The earthquake caused damage to the Hatay airport in Syria, as well as Bab al-Hawa, the road used to transport aid at the border, which the Turkish government controls. This, among other damaged roads and infrastructure in Southern Turkey, has caused significant delays for shipments and has stalled aid reaching impacted parts of Syria. These delays have already cost thousands of lives, with aid unable to reach survivors pulled out of the rubble, and a lack of resources for those displaced and without basic necessities.
Syrians Displaced and Land Restrictions for Aid
As a country divided due to the 2011 civil war, providing aid for the 5 million already displaced Syrians who live in the opposition-held northern areas has been a complicated matter for the international community. The United States and European nations have refused to send aid to Bashar Assad’s government in Damascus due to sanctions, despite the earthquake. While the majority of Syria is under government control as the conflicting opposition groups hold the north, with Turkey and rebel group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham holding the northwest and the northeast held by U.S.-backed Kurdish-led groups. Naturally, this area of Syria has become heavily reliant on aid.
However, it is very difficult for aid to reach this corner of land due to restrictions that the Syrian government imposed, which also keeps aid from international organizations from reaching there. NGOs outside Syria have been helping these areas, including Idlib, for years, however, since the United Nations coined the term ‘Syria fatigue,’ the level of donations has decreased and the focus of people’s attention has shifted elsewhere, particularly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
The Caesar Act, a set of U.S. sanctions that originated due to the belief that war profiteers and Syrian officials would keep aid, aimed to discourage human rights abuses in areas of Syria, although some have claimed that it does not target humanitarian assistance. The Syrian government, however, challenged this claim, saying Syrians had to dig “through the rubble by hand, because tools for removing rubble are prohibited for them, and they’re using the simplest, old tools … because they are punished by the Americans, who are blocking them from the needed supplies and equipment.”
Solutions for the Destruction of the Turkey-Syria Earthquake
Aid for Syria by the international community following the earthquake in Turkey has been minimal, with the Syrian humanitarian response for the year already being “severely underfunded,” according to The International Rescue Committee. The organization requested that the global community promptly boost funding in order to provide the necessary assistance to those impacted by this crisis within a crisis.
According to the American Red Cross, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent in Turkey and Syria are furnishing hot meals and beverages, transporting necessary blood and plasma to affected areas, and rendering psychosocial assistance to survivors. The Turkish Red Crescent has put into action 77 catering vehicles, five mobile kitchens and nearly 2,000 tents. Additionally, it has dispatched mobile kitchens, more than 1,000 tents and almost 20,000 blankets. Turkey’s Islamic Relief aid organization initiated a $20 million fundraising campaign, cautioning that their inventory of mattresses, blankets and other bedding items was at risk of depleting in a matter of hours.
In a press conference last week, Syrian Arab Red Crescent head Khaled Hboubati urged the U.S. and EU to lift the sanctions in place following the disaster of the Turkey-Syria earthquake as Aid convoys and rescuers from many countries including ally Russia and United Arab Emirates, Iran, Iraq and Algeria, have touched down into government-held Syria airports. Hboubati claims his group is prepared to provide relief to all areas, including the northern regions that the government in Damascus does not control.
Currently, considering the circumstances, Syrians rely heavily on donations and aid from local charities and NGOs. One such charity, Basmeh & Zeitooneh, has been tirelessly working on the ground to provide food, blankets, mattresses and shelter for the people who have lost everything, with further efforts to help actors deal with the debris and rubble littering the areas. While they have successfully managed to help hundreds of people in this dire situation, more work is necessary as the death toll continues to rise.
– Noura Matalqa