In the early hours of February 6th, 2023, a frightful 7.8 magnitude earthquake occurred in southern Turkey, near the northern border of Syria. It was followed by another one, nearly as strong, nine hours later. According to Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), the disaster ended up with at least 45,000 deaths, and more than 11,000 aftershocks hit the place, increasing the number of deceased, injured, stranded and missing people.
It is estimated that only in Syria, at least 5,800 people died. However, the exact number is hard to know, due to the fact that half of the country has been rebel-held since 2011. The northwestern area affected by the earthquake is dominated by armed groups opposed to the Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. For more than 10 years, Syria has been facing a tragic civil war, and long before the disaster, more than 4 million citizens were already in need of humanitarian assistance. The region was broadly blocked off from the rest of the world, since the official government in Damascus isolated it, leading to the difficulty of obtaining data.
Nevertheless, the occidental media contributes to this misinformation, since it breeds the lack of interest in Middle East causes. According to Rodrigo Gallo, a Brazilian political scientist and professor, this happens because of an economic issue: “There is an oligopoly of small groups that produce content showing their own perspective of the world and sell it to the occidental media that just reproduces it”, he explains.
“It is an economic issue that led to the consolidation of a scenario where the occidental media depends on this minority of voices. Generally, this is bad because that way we do not have a plurality of information”, completes. The small group he talks about includes the communication vehicles mostly from Europe and United States, the center of the occidental media. There are other vehicles around the world that criticize this kind of content, since it is a multipolar world and that means all causes have to be given a fair amount of attention.
However, besides the depth of this debate, there are still some groups supporting and helping the Syrian population after the earthquake. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), for example, is a humanitarian nonprofit organization that is contributing by donating food, household items and hygiene products. It is also providing shelter support, cash assistance and health services.
The International Medical Relief (IMR) developed a Disaster Area Response Team (DART) of doctors and nurses to volunteer in the areas affected, and provided supplies for basic first aid and trauma care. The World Health Organization (WHO) and The UN World Food Programme (WFP) are also helping the 400,000 people impacted by the shocks. The United Nations (UN) released $50 million from its Central Emergency Response Fund to jumpstart the response.
hOW THE ASSISTENCE IS HAPPENING
Most of the Syrians are returning to their home country to help their relatives, and also volunteer with humanitarian aid. Turkey hosts around 3.6 million refugees, being the country with the largest refugee population in the world; due to this scenario, it offered them the opportunity to spend six months in Syria and return without consequences. About 40,000 Syrians have returned from Turkey to rebel-held northwestern Syria after the earthquake. In April 2022, Turkey had banned Syrians from making round-trips to Syria in an effort to promote one-way returns, but this changed in the aftermath of the quake.
More than a month after the disaster, thousands of people are still in need of assistance. Many families are living in temporary shelters, and access to clean water and sanitation is still a concern. The earthquake left lots of children separated from their parents, leaving them in an extremely vulnerable situation and under the risk of different types of abuse. It also destroyed essential infrastructures such as hospitals and schools.
Syrian citizens have been suffering with an emblematic crisis for over a decade, but this catastrophic quake made the country situation even worse. It is, indeed, an emergency condition.