What has happened?
The devastating earthquakes that hit Türkiye and Syria from Monday, February 6, 2023, onwards, have killed more than 5.000 people and injured over 15.000, in addition to major damage to infrastructure in both countries. Hundreds are still under the rubble and cannot be reached. The number of victims is expected to increase 10 times, according to local activists who have been contacted.
The 7.8 magnitude tremor had as its epicenter the Elbistan district in Kahramanmaras province and its effects were sensed throughout the region. It was followed by at least 300 aftershocks and a second earthquake of 7.5 in magnitude with at its epicenter Ekinozu in Kahramanmaras.
As people are forced out of their homes to stand in the rain and cold, emergency teams and aid efforts are quick to respond, and many countries and international institutions have offered support. However, access to affected areas in Syria is seriously hampered.
What is going on now?
People are sleeping on the ground, some live in their cars on the public roads, far from buildings. Those who have relatives in the villages have fled to them, as it is safer because there are no high buildings. This situation is affecting Syrians and Turks in Türkiye and in Syria.
As many remain missing and the aftershocks of the earthquake are still taking place, aid is extremely needed. While providing aid to Türkiye is possible, and many countries and international aid agencies have pledged to do so. However, providing aid to the heavily impacted region of Syria is more difficult.
The north and west Syria region is home to millions of refugees and is divided between the government, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and other opposition groups. Conditions in the region are harsh, with freezing weather, a recent cholera outbreak, and a destroyed aid infrastructure. 4.1 million people in the region depend on humanitarian assistance, the majority of whom are women and children. Only a small border crossing with Türkiye links north and west Syria opposition-held areas to the outside world, and currently roads between Türkiye and Syria are reportedly blocked.
What needs to be done?
During the 11 years of conflict in Syria, the international community, led by the Western countries and their institutions, called for the separation of humanitarian aid from politics and to facilitate access to humanitarian aid without restrictions or conditions. Now, Syrians inside and outside of Syria and Turks are in dire need of separating the humanitarian track from politics. Up to the time of writing this paper, aid to Syria has come from Russia, Iran, Iraq, and Belarus, while aid has arrived from 14 countries to Türkiye with nearly 70 countries offering to send additional aid. Therefore, all regional and international parties to the conflict in Syria must expedite the delivery of humanitarian aid to all affected areas without political restrictions, including the restrictions associated with the sanctions imposed on Syria.
All border crossings and airports should be opened to facilitate humanitarian aid getting to those affected within Syria. Because the land roads in Türkiye are damaged, work must first be done on creating an airbridge. Second, border crossings in northw-est Syria, in particular the al-Yarubiyah crossing, should be opened as land roads would still allow for aid to get to the affected areas inside Syria. In addition, all local conflict parties must open internal crossings and facilitate the passage of humanitarian aid without restrictions or conditions.
The essential needs:
Remove the rubble: to get those who are stranded out, there should be direct intervention by sending the necessary equipment and machinery, in addition to teams specialized in removing the rubble, as the war has completely destroyed the infrastructure.
Secure shelter: many people have lost their homes, and it is still unknown when they can return. Shelter should be provided, in addition to food, water, and medicine for those affected. They should also receive support with relevant equipment and through experts in order to assess the damage before returning to their homes.
Fight misleading information and rumors: disinformation is being spread and to this moment causes panic to those affected and others in safe areas.
Provide psychological support: the horror of the earthquakes and the extremely harsh conditions that accompanied them, such as the cold weather, is cause for concerns related to the mental and psychological health of many, and therefore psychosocial support must be provided.
Today, civilians need the efforts and intervention of international and local aid organizations more than ever, and these organizations need all kinds of support from donor governments in order to carry out their duties. Therefore, support must be secured, and efforts must be coordinated between the international and local levels without the interference of politics. This will contribute to finding an alternative mechanism for providing aid directly to civilians in all affected areas, rather than through official channels, which the international community refuses due to the sanctions imposed on Syria.