‘Despite compounding crises, the world has largely forgotten Syria’

Next month marks almost 12 years since the conflict in Syria began.

Astonishingly, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more people in Syria need humanitarian assistance today than at any time since the crisis began.

Those needs have escalated dramatically as a result of the Feb 6 earthquake. A 7.7 magnitude quake struck on Monday, affecting many parts of Turkiye and Syria.

The disaster has added yet another layer of complexity to the already many challenges facing the Syrian people.

However, the international community has largely forgotten Syria, despite being ravaged by multiple concurrent and compounding crises over the years.

This issue was raised yesterday, at the WHO’s Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean briefing on the earthquakes in southern Turkiye and northern Syria.

“Even as health and humanitarian needs increase, funding continues to decrease,” said Dr Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean.

“It should not take a tragic event, such as this crisis, for us to turn our attention to Syria.”

Some 15.3 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in Syria.

The impact of the earthquake in Syria is expected to further compound the on-going crises in the country.

They include:

  • Outbreaks and endemic diseases
  • Economic decay
  • Hostilities
  • Massive displacement
  • Disrupted services
  • Inflation
  • Climatic shocks
  • Decrease in resources

WHO data records 764 deaths in the areas of Aleppo, Hama, Latakia and Tratous, and another 480 deaths in northwest Syria.

The earthquake also disrupted electricity and water supply, communications, and damaged other infrastructure.

The world body warned of hypothermia, among others, due to the cold temperatures.

It listed several immediate needs, including access to the most affected populations, surgical supplies, basic first aid kits, continuity of health care services, fuel for re-deployment of health workers, and drinking water.

“Experts from WHO’s regional trauma initiative have already deployed and our logistics hub in Dubai is ensuring that critical supplies are delivered in a timely manner,” Dr Ahmed said.

“WHO emergency experts are effectively coordinating across multiple offices, from Damascus and Aleppo, to Gaziantep and Ankara, to our regional offices in Cairo and Copenhagen, and our headquarters in Geneva.

“The Organisation’s three levels are coming together effectively to meet the health needs of those impacted by this tragic event.

“As the world once again turns its attention to Syria, it should not take a tragic event such as this for us to remember the Syrian people.

“Today, they need more than just our sympathy. They need to be allowed to live a life free of disease, hunger, and other public health threats,” he added.

The death toll from Monday’s earthquake now stands at close to 8,000, and around 18,700 injuries have been reported across both countries.

Severe winter weather conditions there are impeding first responders’ efforts, and present a serious problem for those without indoor shelter.

Main image: Sarmada, Syria (WHO)