"We didn’t have time to grab any clothes." A glimpse into northwest Syria after the earthquake’s disaster

Published: Feb 20, 2023 Reading time: 4 minutes
Photos for story of Muhammad from Atareb.
© Photo: People in Need

More than 41,000 people have died in Syria and Türkiye after the 7.7 magnitude earthquake, considered the most significant natural disaster of this century. While the focus has now shifted from rescue operations to reconstruction, the crisis within crisis is evolving just two weeks into the aftermath of the earthquake.

After the earthquake, at least 18,450 buildings are reported as destroyed or damaged in northwest Syria, leaving many families homeless and living in open spaces despite the low-temperature levels. 2.8 million out of a total population of 4 million in northwest Syria were previously displaced multiple times.

People are sleeping in the streets, in parks or in their cars, and many families have moved to tents far from concrete buildings. “We were informed that our house could collapse at any moment and that we cannot go near it,” says Mohammad. We met him and his family at one of the temporary shelter centres in Atareb, in western Aleppo governorate, whilst they were waiting to be relocated to another shelter. “We didn’t have time to grab any clothes; we are in urgent need of mattresses, food, and clothes for the children,” he adds.

The Syrians, who have experienced all kinds of death, are now battling against other factors. Zaynab, a 33-year-old displaced Syrian woman who is also a cancer patient, spent around 5 hours under the rubble with her family after the earthquake hit. “Everything happened so fast. We couldn’t make it outside before the house collapsed on our heads. After we were rescued, we spent the day in the hospital,” she explains. Zaynab and her three children were then moved to a temporary shelter. “My husband is a cardiac patient and had to be taken to Turkey for surgery; my daughter’s arm and shoulder were broken, my head was injured, and my brother had so many fractures that he cannot move on his own anymore,” she says. Zaynab is one of the many people in Syria who have witnessed the death of their beloved ones after the earthquake. Her brother and his pregnant wife lost their lives right before her eyes when they were waiting for someone to rescue them.

A crisis within a crisis

The earthquake comes at the worst possible time; Syria is already dealing with harsh winter conditions, displacement, poverty, a cholera outbreak, and a fragile health system. Before the earthquake, majority of the population in northwest Syria needed humanitarian assistance.

This natural disaster is not the only life-threatening incident to hit Syria; survivors of the earthquake suffer from a lack of water, good sanitation, electricity, heating, medications, diapers, and food. The significant increase in unaccompanied children and overcrowded shelters will impose more risks on women and children who might become an easy targets of exploitation. Furthermore, individuals, especially those who experienced the Syrian war, will have reoccurring trauma, which might further affect their mental health.

According to UNOCHA, the risk of waterborne diseases is high, particularly amid an ongoing cholera outbreak. In addition, access to education services has been negatively impacted, and more than 14,000 children and 600 teachers are out of school, whilst nearly 40% of schools are reportedly damaged.

The earthquake disaster had a massive impact on the health service in northwest Syria which was already under great strain. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), only half of the health facilities were operational before the earthquake, and at least 57 were partially damaged or suspended their services.

Aqrabat hospital is one of the few hospitals that are still functioning. There, we met Salah Abdul Salam, the Administrative Director at Aqrabat Hospital in northwest Syria. Salah explains how the services are overstretched. “The total injuries and casualties are beyond the capabilities of the health sector. In addition, some medical and logistics supplies ran out,” he says. “We would like to thank People in Need for helping us secure food meals for the patients in the hospital.”

How we're helping on the ground

To bring some semblance of normalcy, People in Need has raised over €3 million and is supporting tens of thousands of affected people in Syria by providing cash assistance, winter clothing, food, mattresses and blankets, generators or tanks for drinking water and repairing destroyed houses. Additionally, implementing cash-for-work assistance to provide short-term employment for debris clearance.

We will also rebuild schools and continue to support them. In addition to supporting farmers so they can replant their crops. Moreover, we will assess our schools so they can resume their educational activities in the coming period.

Donate to the SOS Earthquake Syria and Türkiye Emergency Appeal:

This article was written by Zaynab Mayladan, People in Need’s Communication and Advocacy Manager for the Middle East.

Autor: Zaynab Mayladan, People in Need

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