The aftermath of the Syrian earthquake and the UN's failure

Rescuing team in Aleppo in the aftermath of the Earthquake. Photo by Salem Mohammadi for Tasnim News Agency, Wikimedia Commons CC BY 4.0. Fair use

This piece was published by Baynana Magazine on February 12, 2023. An edited version is republished here, under a content-sharing agreement.

The dangers of earthquakes continue in Syria and Turkey, as a new aftershock measuring 4.6 magnitude struck Hatay in southern Turkey on February 12. The aftershock was felt by residents in northwestern regions of Syria at 1:30 a.m. 

In the three weeks following the earthquake on February 6, more than 10,000 aftershocks of light to medium intensity were felt in the northwestern regions of Syria.

The Syrian civil defense force, commonly referred to as The White Helmets, has issued a warning to civilians, urging them to remain vigilant and cautious, especially in areas where buildings are in a state of disrepair, as well as in the vicinity of collapsed buildings and ramshackle walls. Civilians have been advised to immediately move to open spaces as soon as they feel any tremors, in order to ensure their safety.

As of February 11, the civil defense teams had recorded more than 2,167 deaths and over 2,950 injuries as a result of the recent earthquake in northwestern Syria. More than 55,700 deaths had been confirmed as of 10 March 2023.

Despite harsh conditions, including the need to work amidst the rubble of collapsed buildings, search operations kept going to recover the bodies of the deceased in many areas of the countryside of Idlib and Aleppo.

Bab Al-Hawa crossing on the Syrian-Turkish border announced on February 11 through its social media accounts that approximately 1,100 bodies had been transported through the crossing:

As of the publication date, it has been reported that about 1,100 bodies of our people who died in the earthquake that struck southern #Turkey and northern #Syria have been transported to the Babal-Hawa crossing. The staff at the crossing are still working 24/7 to deliver the remaining bodies of our people, which are arriving successively to their families.

According to the Ministry of Health of the Bashar al-Assad regime, the number of deaths in the regions of Halab, Latakia, and Aleppo, which are under the control of the regime, has reached 1,408, with 2,341 individuals injured. As a result, the total number of casualties across Syria, as of the date of this publication, has exceeded 4,175 deaths and thousands injured. However, the number has reached more than 48,400 dead in Turkey and more than 7,200 dead in Syria as of March 10.

According to the Bashar al-Assad regime‘s Ministry of Health, he number of deaths in the regime-controlled regions of Halab, Latakia, and Aleppo has reached 1,408, with 2,341 people injured. As of March 10, the figure had risen to more than 48,400 dead in Turkey and more than 7,200 dead in Syria.

Inadequate aid to northwest Syria

The aid that was delivered to Syria after nearly a week after the earthquake was not sufficient to cope with the scale of the disaster.

On February 9, the first United Nations aid convoy reached northwest Syria via the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, an area outside the Syrian regime's control. The region has suffered greatly from the earthquake and is one of the hardest hit areas. The convoy consisted of six trucks loaded with essential food supplies and hygiene kits, which were urgently needed to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in the area.

Mazen Alloush, the media officer at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, informed AFP that the first UN aid convoy “arrived today after four days from the earthquake.” However, the White Helmets rescue group said they were disappointed by the aid, “This is certainly not special aid and equipment for search and rescue teams.”

The second aid convoy reached Jenderes city in northern Aleppo following the earthquake on February 11 was from Saudi Arabia. The city has been deemed the most heavily impacted, with over 580 reported fatalities by the civil defense.

On February 12 a delegation from the Qatari Red Crescent arrived in Idlib to assist with search and rescue operations and provide aid to those affected by the earthquake. The team comprised two specialized teams that had been dispatched to northern Syria. The first team consisted of five Egyptian doctors, while the second was a three-member Spanish rescue team.

Aid to regions controlled by the al-Assad regime and Turkey

Despite the complicated political relations between Bashar al-Assad's regime and the rest of the world, some countries have set politics aside to provide assistance without directly engaging with the Assad regime.

In a statement to Baynana magazine, Franz Gillen, the International Communications Coordinator at CESAL, a Spanish humanitarian organization that runs refugee programs, confirmed that they had deployed serval teams to both Syria and Turkey in response to the earthquake. 

Franz Gillen confirmed that on February 9, CESAL sent a team of volunteer cooks to the disaster areas as part of the emergency hospital team that was dispatched. He also noted that the Spanish government decided to send aid to Turkey following their request for assistance. He added: 

Along with the Spanish Agency for International Development (AECID), is part of the emergency response team called START, which can establish a field hospital within 72 hours anywhere in the world. In this instance, the field hospital was sent to Hatay, Turkey.

Gillen clarified that the CESAL team dispatched to Syria will be working in the cities of Aleppo and Latakia, which are under the control of Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Meanwhile, according to a source at the King Salman Center for Relief and Humanitarian Aid who spoke to the Agence France-Presse (AFP), Saudi Arabia has pledged to provide aid to areas affected by the Syrian conflict, including those under the control of the al-Assad regime. The source confirmed that the aid will be sent directly to Aleppo International Airport and the Syrian Red Crescent in Damascus. However, the source also stated that there are no direct communication channels with the Syrian government.

Several Arab countries have announced that they are sending search teams and planes loaded with aid to areas under Assad's control in Syria, including Algeria, Jordan, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates.

The aid received was nowhere near what was needed in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Criticism of the UN's performance

Activists placed the United Nations flag upside down on collapsed buildings in northwest Syria that were affected by an earthquake, condemning the lack of assistance provided to those trapped under the rubble. 

Raed Al Saleh, the director of the civil defense organization in Syria, has criticized the United Nations for the delayed arrival of aid to the northwest region of Syria. He has called for an investigation into the reasons for the UN's failure to deliver aid to the region.

As a result, Martin Griffiths, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, has acknowledged that the United Nations has not been successful in assisting Syrians in the northwest region of the country, and apologized for it.


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