It’s been a year since the earthquake and Syrians feel forgotten again | The Turkey-Syria earthquake
When the earthquakes struck Turkey and Syria last year, claiming more than 50,000 lives, the question on the minds of many Syrians, myself included, was: “Could things get worse?” Unfortunately, things got worse.
Most of the Syrians affected by the earthquake were unable to move on from the destruction. I see this in my own family. My 16-year-old cousin Naya couldn’t get over the loss of her sister – my 18-year-old cousin Maya – who was killed along with four other family members when our family home collapsed in Jableh.
Her unrelenting grief is reflected in the constant stream of social media posts of all-black photos and broken heart emojis. On the anniversary of the earthquake, she wrote: “It’s been a year, Mimi, and you’re far away from us. We miss your voice. We miss your smile. We miss you so much. There is nothing in the world that can compensate for your absence from us.”
We often ask ourselves if our loved ones could have been saved, if the rescue teams had arrived in time, if the world had not turned its back on Syrians, if the war had not only happened. My cousins’ bodies were still warm when they were pulled from the rubble.
The earthquake destroyed a population that was already suffering. Syrians lost family members, homes, livelihoods, what little stability they might have had in the midst of the ongoing war. Over the past year, the number of Syrians in need of humanitarian assistance has increased from 15.3 million to 16.7 million, the highest level since the start of hostilities some 13 years ago. And yet, the greatest need has not been met with adequate funding; on the other hand, contributions have decreased.
As humanitarian workers, we are called to prioritize – that is to make impossible choices. If the situation does not change, I fear there will be disastrous consequences for the children of Syria.
Conflict, economic crisis and climate change
Since the earthquake, the country has faced a number of challenges that have only worsened the situation, including renewed conflict, a severe economic crisis, and climate change-related disasters.
The most significant escalation of conflict in the past five years hit northern Syria in October, killing and injuring dozens and displacing at least 120,000 in northwestern Syria. against. Airstrikes in southern and central Syria in January have made additional threats.
The ongoing economic crisis, exacerbated by sanctions, has made life unbearable for ordinary Syrians. By 2023, the Syrian currency lost almost 60 percent of its value to the dollar. This was accompanied by skyrocketing inflation that transformed basic needs into luxuries.
90 percent of households struggled to meet essential needs, leaving families to make difficult decisions for their children.
“We are barely surviving… everything has become expensive,” said Zaina*, a mother of six, living in an informal camp in Raqqa supported by Save the Children.
“I light a fire with wood, turning it into gardeners [and bring it inside the tent to keep my children warm]. You know, he smokes a lot and it affects their health,” she told Save the Children staff. “If you go to the doctor, he says it’s because of the smoke. Either fog or cold. We don’t know what to do. “
Too many families, like Zaina, are faced with the painful reality – deciding between their children’s health and heating their homes. It is an impossible choice in the middle of a harsh winter.
The freezing cold followed a blisteringly hot summer marked by incessant rain, which fueled devastating wildfires across the country in July, affecting 73 towns and around 50,000 people.
Children at breaking point
Many children, like my cousin Naya, are reeling from the double whammy of conflict and earthquakes. Returning to school after losing her sister, she has few means of support.
Mental health support is almost non-existent for young people, despite almost 70 per cent of children struggling with grief, according to research by Save the Children. About a third of Syrian households have children with signs of mental distress, the UN said.
More than half of healthcare workers, including qualified mental health professionals, have left the country in the past decade.
“I still feel the earth shaking,” one eight-year-old boy in northern Syria told our staff, “It’s not just the earthquake. scare me – dozens of bombs fell on our camp. “
The boy’s father died in a bombing before the earthquake. His mother lives on welfare, with very little money to buy bread. She says he has regressed more and more, living in constant fear for his life.
Before the earthquake, the education system in Syria was already struggling. According to the UN, more than 7,000 schools were damaged or destroyed. About two million children were not attending school and 1.6 million were at risk of dropping out.
The earthquake made the situation even worse, especially in northwestern Syria, where 54 percent of schools were affected.
More need, less support
Many areas that were hit by the earthquake had been the main points of conflict in the past five years. The earthquake devastated communities that were already struggling to cope. It affected people who were already at breaking point – mentally, physically and financially.
Just as needs have increased, aid has decreased. The UN’s humanitarian response plan was only 37.8 percent funded in 2023. At the end of last year, media reports indicated that the World Food Program (WFP) will suspend much of its main food aid program in the country -year due to lack of funding.
At the same time, international awareness of the crisis in Syria is also declining, leading many to fear that the world is forgetting the Syrian people.
After the tragic deaths in my family, I spoke to the UN Security Council last year urging the international community to use the earthquakes as a moment to rethink their approach to Syria. evaluation
As both a Syrian and a humanitarian, I warned that the earthquake could push the country to the brink, leaving the next generation heavily dependent on aid.
I asked if it would be enough to just keep children alive, without dealing with the root cause of the humanitarian crisis. We urgently need to do things differently, but change is yet to come.
A better future?
The way forward remains clear – we must restore basic services in Syria. In addition to restoring damaged or broken infrastructure, we need to create safe places and schools for children, train teachers and pay them properly.
We need to invest in sustainable projects focused on helping parents access jobs that pay good wages, supporting agriculture so people are less dependent on food aid, and strengthening health systems so that children grow up healthy. We need to ensure that children and their families have access to appropriate mental health support so that they can cope with all that they have suffered.
Currently, there is insufficient funding or support to achieve this.
Our work as humanitarians has never been more difficult. We need not only financial support, but also the space and security to work and create change on the ground. We cannot continue to do the same things, with fewer resources and expect to see better outcomes for children.
The world is indeed a more fragile place today than it was a year ago, and Syria is among a growing number of countries that are involved in many crises.
But the international community has a duty to ensure that all children, wherever they are, grow up in safety, dignity and hope.
Only through collective action, sustained support, and a commitment to meaningful change can we hope to build a better future for Syria.
As we remember the earthquakes that shook our world, let us not forget the ongoing struggle of the Syrian people.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.