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Qamishli, Syria: More than a week after twin earthquakes rocked parts of southeastern Turkey and northwestern Syria, the death toll continues to rise by the hour. As of Tuesday, the total death toll in both countries exceeded 41,000, with tens of thousands of people injured.

Although the number of confirmed deaths in Syria is lower – around 5,814 compared to 35,418 in Turkey – more than a decade of civil war has left the country completely unprepared to deal with a disaster of this magnitude.

The already dire situation in the country’s northwest, where a hodgepodge of rival regimes, opposition groups and militant factions have long fought for control, has turned into an absolute humanitarian catastrophe.

The Washington-based Middle East Institute estimated that up to 60 percent of the region’s infrastructure had already been damaged or destroyed by the February 6 earthquake, especially with medical facilities.

“Prior to the earthquake, most people were suffering from the humanitarian situation as a result of the destruction of most buildings and infrastructure, especially in the medical sector, and the lack of logistics and medicine, due to the bombings by the Assad regime and its ally Russia.” Bashar al-Fares, a journalist in northwestern Syria, told Arab News.

“Today, after the earthquakes that hit the northwestern regions of Syria, the situation has become even more dire. As a result of the devastation caused in the area, which was a refuge for refugees and forcibly displaced families from various Syrian governorates, the earthquakes Thousands of people lost their lives and many others were injured.

Saudi Arabia sent search and rescue teams to Syria and Turkey. (spa)

“This was compounded by severe shortages of medical staff, medicines and rescue equipment.”

Nearly 3 million people are classified as internally displaced in the region of Syria bordering Turkey, after being driven from their homes elsewhere in the country to escape bombing, conscription, fighting and persecution.

Freezing winter temperatures, including heavy snowfall before the earthquake, combined with an unprecedented cholera outbreak and ongoing conflict in the country, Syrians are facing overlapping misfortunes with little outside aid.

The cholera outbreak, which began in August, has so far affected more than 77,000 people nationwide, some 38,000 of them in Idlib and Aleppo governorates – the areas worst hit by the earthquake.

The plight of the Syrian currency at the end of last year added to the misery of the people. The black-market exchange rate against the US dollar has already increased from 500 Syrian pounds in 2018 to 3,300 in 2021. By the end of last year, it had grown to over 6,600.

The pound has continued to fall in value since the earthquake, with the exchange rate reaching over £7,400 this week, further reducing the purchasing power of the average household.

Although the annual death toll in the country last year was the lowest since the start of the conflict more than a decade ago, fighting between different factions continued in areas ravaged by earthquakes.

As recently as 3 February, regime forces heavily bombarded the outskirts of al-Bara in rural Idlib. Just two days before the earthquake, dozens were killed in clashes between Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a network of hardline Islamist groups, and regime forces in Latakia.

Afrin, one of the areas most affected by the disaster, has been in a state of chaos since Turkish forces and the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army invaded the region in 2018, capturing it from the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria. has been done. (Aeneas).

Until then, Afrin had been considered a relatively peaceful area during most of the conflict, and so hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people from other areas had settled there.

According to a 2018 report by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the violent upheaval in 2018 displaced the predominantly Kurdish population, with 300,000 fleeing to other parts of Syria and abroad.

With their homes now destroyed by the earthquake, the remaining Kurdish population may be forced to follow those who have risked the perilous journey to find sanctuary elsewhere.


• The earthquake affected more than 9 million people in Hama, Latakia, Idlib, Aleppo and Tartus.

• 5,814 confirmed deaths in Syria as of Tuesday.

• 90% of Syrians are living below the poverty line.

According to the International Organization for Migration, nearly 250 migrants died last year trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. From 2021 to 2022, the number of Syrians attempting the risky sea crossing from Africa to Europe is set to increase sixfold, according to Frontex, the EU border agency.

For those who have no choice but to remain in Syria, the effects of the earthquake and its aftermath add to their misery.

“The situation in Syria is terrible in every way,” Syrian Kurdish journalist and analyst Sardar Mullah Darwish told Arab News. “These earthquakes are the latest disaster of many. Many citizens will be killed and no one can help them.

“It is very difficult to help them. Everyone should have come together and put aside their conflicts, but unfortunately it did not happen.”

Darwish said that more than a decade of civil war has essentially divided Syria into three separate countries: the regime, the opposition, and the areas controlled by ANES.

The destruction caused by the earthquakes covered areas both inside and outside regime control, including Jindris in Afrin, which is controlled by the opposition, and Aleppo and the coastal city controlled by Damascus.

“A major issue now is that because Syria is divided politically, the regime only wants to bring aid to itself and the opposition only wants to bring aid to itself,” Darwish said.

“We have disappointed the people in northwestern Syria so far. They feel rightly abandoned,” said Martin Griffiths, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Emergency Relief Coordinator. (supply)

Political agendas tied to the provision of aid to the Syrian people have further complicated the humanitarian response in an already vulnerable region.

The Bab al-Hawa border crossing near Idlib on the border between Syria and Turkey is an approved crossing for the delivery of UN aid directly to people in Syria through Turkey. The crossing was closed for three days as a result of the damage caused during the earthquake.

As a result, it was not until Thursday, 9 February, that six trucks carrying shelter and non-food supplies from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs arrived in northwestern Syria.

Syria’s President Bashar Assad told the United Nations on Monday, a week after the earthquake, that he would reopen two other crossing points, Bab al-Salam and al-Rai, for an initial period of three months to give those affected time to recuperate. But help can be provided. regions.

Largely isolated from the wider country, northwestern Syria was forced to fend for itself almost entirely in the days immediately following the disaster.

“All the cities of the Idlib Governorate and the northern countryside of Aleppo have civil defense centers (whose personnel are known internationally as the White Helmets) and they are always ready for anything,” Darwish said.

“However, the lack of heavy rescue equipment was one of the biggest problems for all rescue teams because what happened in northwest Syria was a disaster that no country could handle.

Civil war, a cholera outbreak and a declining economy have forced thousands of Syrian refugees to move to neighboring Turkey. (AFP)

“As of now, civil defense and rescue teams are still continuing to search for victims and pull them out of the rubble.”

The widespread aid response has been chaotic. Although the Assad government promised to provide aid for all areas affected by the earthquake, including those it does not control, al-Fares said that, to his knowledge, supplies by the regime in Idlib have so far No deliveries have been made.

Hundreds of trucks carrying food, fuel, water and other essential supplies from AANES have been stranded in Manbij for several days. For political reasons, neither the opposition nor the regime was allowing trucks to enter the quake-hit areas of the city.

Asked whether many more Syrians could seek refuge in neighboring countries or beyond as a result of the catastrophe, Al-Fares said: “If they intend to migrate to other, more stable countries, there is no clear and Not a safe crossing.”

In other words, there is nowhere left for the Syrian people to be destitute from one crisis after another.