Syria's Path Forward: Overcoming Adversity in the Wake of the 2023 EarthquakesPublished: Feb 4, 2024 Reading time: 7 minutes
The Türkiye-Syria 7.8 and 7.5 magnitude earthquakes of 6 February 2023 stand as the fifth-deadliest of the 21st century. What's more, this was the deadliest natural disaster in both countries' history, affecting the lives of nearly 16 million people. A year on, we look at its impacts and how we have helped the people of Syria to cope with its effects.
The earthquake led to around 57,000 fatalities, with around 6,000 of those occurring in northwest Syria alone, along with tens of thousands of injuries. Additionally, approximately 10,000 buildings collapsed in northwest Syria, displacing about 400,000 families. Syria, which was already battered by years of conflict, faced new harrowing challenges, with the earthquakes exacerbating an already dire humanitarian situation. According to the Syria Earthquake 2023 Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment, the physical damage caused by the earthquake is estimated at $3.7 billion, while losses are estimated at $1.5 billion, bringing the total estimated impact to $5.2 billion.
Immediate Actions Amidst Tragedy
06-February, 2023: In the immediate aftermath of the first earthquake, time became a precious commodity, measured not in hours but in life-saving seconds. Hamza Silo, our Food Security and Emergency Coordinator for Northwest Syria, recounts the initial moments following the quake, saying: "As the earthquake struck, my pregnant wife and I sought refuge in our car, using it as a makeshift shelter. Meanwhile, our team was in instant communication, ensuring the safety of each member within Syria and Türkiye. Even amid personal turmoil, our focus shifted to assessing the situation and understanding the scope of the impact left by the earthquake."
As the morning light rose over the region, our teams began to lay the groundwork for a comprehensive emergency response. Our first intervention was to provide equipment and fuel to the rescue teams. "During the meeting where we were determining our steps and actions, the second earthquake hit. Some of us were in the offices, while others were in the streets or cars," says Hamza, describing the challenges the team faced in this situation.
07-February, 2023: Our teams successfully conducted the first intervention, providing fuel and equipment to the rescue teams. Additionally, our team assessed the most urgent needs, which were drinking water, food, fuel for heating, and shelter items, such as tents and sheets. "This time, the situation was more complicated than usual, as the border crossing points between Syria and Türkiye were cut due to the earthquake. Consequently, our tasks became more difficult than usual; however, our teams worked tirelessly despite the fact that they, themselves, were also quake-affected people. Through the dedication of our team, we were able to provide for a wide range of urgent needs," adds Hamza.
A Year of Action and Impact
Over the past year, we've focused on rebuilding critical infrastructure, providing essential services such as education and Psychosocial Support (PSS), distributing essential support kits and aid, and supporting local businesses. Our work has been guided by the principle of building back better, ensuring that recovery efforts not only restore but also enhance the resilience of affected communities.
Rehabilitation of houses and schools
Firstly, the shelter programme engaged in 2 projects to rehabilitate 400 houses. However, the programme focuses on more than just houses; it is also rehabilitating infrastructure such as the Harem school, which is considered a historic structure.
With generous support from Stichting Vluchteling (SV) and Swiss Solidarity (SWS) via the Alliance2015 partner Helvetas, we supported 381 households. We improved the living conditions of around 2,100 people. Additionally, we are in the process of constructing residential flats for 200 families.
"We sat still and watched the walls begin to crack and crumble," says 80-year-old Um-Jamil, explaining the horror of seeing her home endure significant damage right before her eyes. "PIN rehabilitated, plastered and painted the walls, installed new doors, and placed ceramic tiles in the bathroom," she explains, detailing the work that was done to rehabilitate her home.
In addition to rehabilitating homes, we also supported Water, Sanitation and Hygiene infrastructure for over 80,000 people. We repaired water stations and elevated water tanks in 7 villages.
Restoration of education
Our education programme supports a project to provide informal education and Psychosocial Support (PSS) for children affected by the earthquake. Through this project, we provided informal education to children who are at risk of dropping out of school due to the earthquake. We provided cash for education and supported parents and caregivers in the aftermath of the earthquake through parenting sessions and providing support to teachers and schools.
With Syria Cross-border Humanitarian Fund (SCHF) funding, we provided informal education to around 2,500 children, cash for education to 658 beneficiaries, and parenting sessions to 319 individuals. We supported the rehabilitation of 6 schools, along with ensuring the safety of the schools and supporting 114 teachers.
Support for livelihoods and local economies
Concurrent with our Rehabilitation and WASH work, our Livelihood Program Team provided the support needed for locals to restore their livelihood and kickstart projects and businesses. We achieved this through a two-step approach: the first, providing business restoration and management training and then providing financial support to businesses that match the criteria.
With the support from USAID's Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA) and Swiss Solidarity (SWS) via Alliance2015 partner Helvetas we invited around 4,000 people to the business restoration and management training and provided $1000 support to approximately 300 people.
"The earthquake took my livelihood from me, but I was able to rent my new place and purchase the equipment essential for my work with this grant. I was able to stand on my own feet again," says Ahmad, a local motor repair shop owner, explaining the impact of the grant on his life.
Additionally, our team also launched a Cash-for-Work project that focused on immediate rubble removal, prioritising critical public infrastructure such as access roads and public areas. Subsequently, the efforts extended to include the clearance of private houses, working closely with homeowners who actively participated in the process.
Beyond rubble removal, the team also dedicated resources to essential services such as solid waste management and support to reception centres. While our main emphasis was on removal rather than further management due to the acute phase of the disaster, we ensured that communities were empowered to undertake necessary actions such as recycling and repurposing of materials.
With support from SV, SWS, and BHA, we engaged a total of 1,739 workers, providing them with wages, personal protective equipment, and essential electrical tools and equipment tailored to each worksite's needs. This ensured that the rubble removal was efficient and improved the public infrastructure. Ultimately, the estimated quantity of removed rubble was 47,800 m3.
Concurrently, our food security and Emergency Programme Team—with funding from The Aid Fund for Northern Syria, SV, European Union, BHA, SWS, and PIN's Club of Friends and SOS Earthquake Syria and Türkiye Emergency Appeal—distributed; 400 cans of baby formula, 47,000 litres of fuel, around 2,500 non-food items kits, 7,200 pieces of winter clothing, 225 water tanks, 1,600 drinking water of 5 litres, 650 piece of plastic sheets, 4,000 ready to eat ration kits, 1,600 cooked meals, and 315 Rescuing materials, along with cash grants that include; 6,050 winterisation cash grants, 18,000 Multi-Purpose Cash Assistance grants, and 4,550 cash for shelter grants.
The current situation
The collaboration between our organisation, local communities, and international partners has been instrumental in orchestrating our response. This response not only addressed the immediate aftermath of the earthquake but is setting the stage for a resilient and sustainable recovery. Towards recovery, we are collaborating with locals in every aspect, and we include them in each phase of the recovery process. Despite the breadth of our efforts aimed at addressing both urgent needs and the longer-term reconstruction of lives, the backdrop of conflict and pre-existing humanitarian challenges has rendered our mission more complex and arduous.
Yet, the path to recovery, while fraught with obstacles, continues. The evolving needs of those impacted by the earthquake remain at the forefront of our endeavours. Our commitment extends beyond mere reconstruction; we are working to create a bright future for them and the upcoming generation of Syria.
Our advocacy continues, as does our call for solidarity and support from the global community. The path to recovery is continuous; collective efforts and shared experiences shape it. In moving forward, we are guided by the insights gained and the relationships strengthened through these challenging times. Our focus remains on building a foundation for development, ensuring that communities are better prepared to face and overcome future challenges.