Reduced international aid and long-running conflict compound earthquake misery for Syrians a year later

JINDERIS, Syria –

A year ago, Sido Naji woke up to his house shaking in northwest Syria. He was used to the sounds of bombing and air raids after more than a decade of war, but this time the aggressor was a force of nature: a massive earthquake.

The 16-year-old boy and his father managed to flee before the house collapsed. As they zigzagged down a busy street in Jinderis, Aleppo province, a stone wall crashed into them, crushing the teenager’s leg and breaking his arm.

The devastating magnitude 7.8 earthquake on February 6, 2023 killed more than 59,000 people in Syria and Turkey.

For its survivors in Syria, the massive quake exacerbated already rampant poverty, destroyed hospitals and electricity and water systems, and forced many Syrians already displaced by the war to move into tent settlements.

In Jinderis, as in many of the areas in Syria affected by the earthquake, there has been almost no reconstruction and entire blocks still lie under rubble. Naji, who has had his leg amputated, lives in a muddy tent.

“It’s cold at night and there’s no wood (for heating) or anything,” he said.

Syria has been devastated by an uprising-turned-civil war since 2011, and the conflict in the opposition-controlled northwestern enclave is at its worst in years. Syrian and Russian bombings and military attacks have killed dozens of people and displaced more than 100,000 since August.

The earthquake killed at least 6,000 people in Syria, mainly in the northwest, where most of the 4.5 million people depend on humanitarian aid to survive. Some 800,000 people living in tents need to be relocated.

The World Bank estimates that the earthquake caused more than $5 billion in damage across northern Syria.

However, an initial flood of international assistance quickly diminished.

United Nations agencies and other humanitarian organizations have been struggling to fund programs to provide a lifeline in Syria, blaming donor fatigue, the COVID-19 pandemic and conflicts elsewhere that have erupted in recent years. .

The UN World Food Programme, which estimates that more than 12 million Syrians lack regular access to food, announced in December that it would suspend its main aid program in Syria in 2024.

Tanya Evans, director of the International Rescue Committee in Syria, says the needs on both sides of the front line in Syria have never been higher.

“Families are facing rampant inflation, along with job losses, and having to make heartbreaking decisions about whether to put food on the table or go hungry,” Evans told The Associated Press.

Yasmine al-Ali, in the Salah ad-Din camp in the Idlib countryside, trembles as she tries to tie up her tattered tent and digs a trench in the mud to prevent water from flooding her makeshift home.

Patting a soggy mat inside the tent, he says, “Look, it’s just water and mud. We need new tents.”

Yasine al-Ahmad, who manages the camp of more than 500 families, says firewood for heating is too expensive, so most people burn plastic, filling the camps with toxic smoke while doing their best to pass the time. winter. Many have to skip meals due to food insecurity and rationing.

“There have also been difficulties in supporting water stations, educational services and medical support in hospitals,” the UN deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis, David Carden, told the AP during a visit to the northwest. from Syria at the end of January. While needs increase, he said, “we can’t do more with less.”

The UN was only able to secure 37 percent of the $5.3 billion needed for its humanitarian response in Syria in 2023, which Carden said was one of the lowest funding targets since the conflict began.

And with no political solution in sight, the Syrian conflict has become a major obstacle for humanitarian organizations.

It is “difficult to convince donors to build for the long term, for development,” said Rosa Cresanti, head of the World Health Organization’s office in Gaziantep, Turkey. “We are still in a humanitarian situation due to the ongoing conflict. This is the main reason why there are no long-term plans.”

Ahmed Koteich, a construction worker, said people have stopped waiting for help and are trying to gather whatever resources they can to restore and replenish their stores and farms.

“The international community said it supported the residents, with their thoughts and rhetoric,” Koteich said. “But this talk won’t help the people here.”

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Chehayeb reported from Beirut. Associated Press journalist Ghaith Al-Sayed in Idlib, Syria, contributed to this report.

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