Six Months After the Devastating Earthquake Disaster... Work Continues to Restore Life"
As each day passes, the profound extent of the disaster's impact and the subsequent changes become increasingly evident. This has not only intensified the already deteriorating humanitarian situation but has also eroded the societies' capacity to recover and rebuild, especially considering the ongoing 12 years of war.
Six months have passed since the devastating earthquake struck Turkey and Syria on February 6th. In a matter of mere seconds, the lives of thousands were forever altered, along with the landscapes of many cities, villages, and towns. This earthquake stands as a harrowing event, leaving an indelible mark on the affected regions. The catastrophe in northwestern Syria, however, extends beyond the earthquake, as this region has been grappling with an even larger catastrophe in the form of an ongoing 12-year-long war by Russia and the Syrian regime. The earthquake, a calamity in its own right, exacerbated an already dire situation. It introduced enduring challenges to recovery and resilience, compounded by the fragility of the existing infrastructure, the lack of response from the international community, and the unfortunate politicization of humanitarian aid.
Cities and Towns of Syria 6 Months After the Earthquake
Six months after the earthquake, northwestern Syrian cities and towns have undergone significant transformation. The quake's aftermath, combined with years of airstrikes by the regime and Russia, has led to widespread devastation. The White Helmets have cleared 422,000 cubic meters of debris across 133 residential areas, opened 210 km of roads in 216 communities, and conducted 610 demolition operations within 103 clusters to safeguard civilians from collapsing structures. Infrastructure, including hospitals and schools, has been severely affected, impeding healthcare and education services.
The earthquake displaced thousands, adding to the millions already uprooted. Our efforts established temporary shelters and essential infrastructure, including sturdy roads and floors across 259 communities covering over 373,000 square meters.
The United Nations and Syria
The recent earthquake disaster has once again highlighted the inaction of the United Nations in the face of the ongoing tragedies endured by the Syrian population for over a decade. The Syrians were left to confront the aftermath of a catastrophic earthquake, a challenge beyond the capacities of many nations. During the critical first 72 hours following the disaster, the United Nations remained absent, failing to mount a timely response crucial for life-saving efforts.
The UN's assistance was confined to pre-scheduled aid that arrived later, falling short of the swift disaster response that was desperately needed. Despite the ever-mounting humanitarian demands in northwestern Syria, the flow of humanitarian aid through the Bab Al-Hawa crossing came to an abrupt halt on July 10th, coinciding with the expiration of the UN mandate.
The situation was exploited by Russia, which used the provision of humanitarian aid as a political tool to manipulate the international community within the corridors of the United Nations Security Council, despite the existence of legal provisions enabling aid passage without necessitating Security Council endorsement. The Russian-led manipulation emboldened the Syrian regime to further impose its conditions on the delivery of humanitarian aid to northwestern Syria, effectively attempting to seize control of the last remaining lifeline for a population that has endured immense suffering over the past 12 years.
Service Projects: A Beacon of Hope in a Challenging Reality
Amidst the challenges, determined recovery and rebuilding initiatives persevered in northwestern Syria. The emphasis remained steadfast on restoring life and rehabilitating essential facilities, working to alleviate the harrowing aftermath of the disaster. These endeavors aimed not only to help Syrians emerge from the earthquake's aftermath, but also to shed the residue of an enduring war. The White Helmets intensified their work in infrastructure projects in an effort to provide an environment suitable for a decent life in northwestern Syria.
From projects to extend water and sewage networks to rehabilitating roads, the White Helmets volunteers devoted their capabilities and expertise to serving the Syrian people. Notably, we've established water and sanitation networks in the Kafr Karmin - Al-Kamouneh camps, benefiting 7,000 homes. We've also set up a sewage network on the Sarmada-Bardaqli road, aiding 6,000 civilians. Collaborating with groups like the Al-Sham Humanitarian Foundation, we've repaired a 3,150-meter road between Sarmada and Kafardarian. Additionally, we've rehabilitated the Afrin third bridge road (1,650 meters) and Afrin-Kafrjaneh road (9,500 meters) as part of the Operational Coalition with Syrian Forum, White Helmets, and SAMS. This coalition restored 23 schools for 13,600 students, ready for the new academic year.
In addition, The White Helmets recorded the implementation of thousands of service operations aimed at strengthening local community resilience in hundreds of residential communities, cities, towns, villages, and camps in northwestern Syria. These services varied from washing schools, streets, gardens and public facilities, drilling technical wells and foundations, electrical maintenance, backfilling abandoned wells to avoid accidents, and digging a sewage line. The volunteers also carried out coordination and beautification of the entrances and exits of the cities, planting and watering trees.
Furthermore, White Helmet's teams remained active on various fronts, including the ongoing removal of unexploded ordinance and remnants of war, and education efforts on these remenants. Alongside their rapid earthquake response, White Helmets volunteers continued to provide services in Women and Family Health centers, conducting camp tours, and firefighting operations that tackled numerous challenging agricultural and forest fires. Moreover, the teams persisted in their awareness initiatives, covering topics like war remnants, fire hazards, technology-related risks, and diseases. Notably, we've collaborated with organizations like MENTOR Initiative to launch preventive campaigns against leishmaniasis.
The realization of all this would have remained unattainable if it weren't for the unwavering support of Syrian civilians towards the endeavors of The White Helmets. Their support, spanning from the initial search and rescue operations to the subsequent phases, has been pivotal. Equally significant are the nations that have stood behind and supported the White Helmets as well as the victims of both the earthquake and the protracted war.
Despite the efforts of our teams to serve the Syrian people and improve the infrastructure, this does not negate the difficult reality that Syria continues to endure. The major catastrophe that shook the lives and hopes of Syrians occurred over 12 years ago by the Assad regime and its allies. The February earthquake only worsened the suffering of Syrians and left a destruction whose traces will not be erased in the near future.
The road ahead is long, and the work is ongoing. Over two million internally displaced people are a result of the war, and 200,000 earthquake victims are now homeless, waiting to return to homes that shield them from the cold of winter and the heat of summer.
Dealing with the long-term effects of the earthquake will not be easy. Syria has been under rubble not just due to the earthquake, but for the past twelve years. The international community must stand by the afflicted and not allow them to face death once again. This can only be achieved by achieving justice and implementing UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which paves the way for a political solution and accountability for those responsible for the Syrian tragedy. It also enables forcibly displaced individuals to return to their homes and properties. Only then can recovery and rebuilding take place anew.