Earthquake response in Syria: Stand your ground!
The Kurdish Red Crescent is providing life-saving aid - and is repeatedly obstructed in doing so.
On Tuesday, February 21, 2023, the time had finally come: The aid convoy of the Kurdish Red Crescent (KRC), also called Heyva Sor A Kurd, was able to pass through the Syrian Regime's checkpoint and bring its humanitarian goods to their destination in Aleppo. For a week and a half, KRC aid workers were stuck there in the freezing cold with their ambulances and packed trucks, while fifty kilometers away, people waited for rescue after the earthquake on February 6. The reason for the blockade: KRC was supposed to hand over most of its goods and ambulances either directly to the Syrian Regime, or to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), which cooperates with it. But since experience has shown that diversion of aid is commonplace and there is then no record of where it is delivered and how it is used, this was out of the question.
KRC stood their ground: after tough negotiations, and with international support, the entire convoy was finally able to continue its journey. The NFIs (non-food items such as mattresses, blankets, winter clothing, tents and diesel for heating) that arrived in Aleppo, and medicines and bandages for emergency care, were further distributed from there. The districts of Sheikh Maqsood and Ashrafia, which have already been severely affected by the war, are in particular need of support. Some of the relief supplies continued on in one of the ambulances to the Shahbah region, where a team of KRC was already working before the earthquake.
After intense negotiations, the KRC convoy can continue on its way on February 21. Photo: Ahmed Ibrahim - KRC Communications Officer/ Photographer
The camps of Shahbah, with up to 20,000 people who fled the war in Afrin, grew by thousands after the earthquake. The supply situation was already critical beforehand. This is because the area is encircled between the Syrian regime and the Turkish occupation, and both parties hardly allow any aid there. Now, KRC is primarily concerned with taking care of the new refugees from Aleppo, as well as expanding the infrastructure of the camps. It is planned to massively increase the teams on site with medical staff, experts in the field of WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene), and engineers. External aid transports are still more than difficult; the organization buys everything necessary locally. Monetary donations are currently the best means to support the essential work of KRC.
CADUS is starting right there with its earthquake emergency relief fundraising campaign. As we are an international NGO registered with AANES (Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria), we ourselves can only work in the North-East of Syria and do not have access to the areas controlled by the Syrian Regime, nor to the areas controlled by the Turkish Regime. An attempt by CADUS to enter the regions most affected by the earthquake would be considered a criminal act by these regimes. Along the way, we would also face the acute threat of Turkish air strikes and drone attacks, as well as combat from the civil war that has been raging for nearly 13 years, and threats from various armed groups. Although areas controlled by AANES and SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) farther west have also been severely affected by the earthquake, the route to them passes through regime areas that are impassable to us. The Kurdish Red Crescent, unlike CADUS, already has teams on the ground there.
Urgently needed relief supplies are unloaded in Aleppo. Photo: Ahmed Ibrahim - KRC Communications Officer/ Photographer
On the day of the earthquake, the KRC volunteers were able to help immediately in some of the most affected places. In addition to emergency medical aid, they provided heated tents as emergency shelters, blankets and warm drinks. Education on what to do in the event of an earthquake is also essential. Many injuries were caused by panic reactions. Since the region is repeatedly shaken by strong aftershocks, the need for appropriate information could hardly be more relevant. KRC is also addressing the psychosocial impact of the earthquake. After all, the disaster hit a country whose population has been suffering one severe blow after another for years. In recent months alone, attacks by Turkey have been joined by attacks by the so-called Islamic State (IS), a cholera and flu epidemic, severe water and electricity shortages, a steady economic decline and skyrocketing inflation.
As an organization that has been working in northeastern Syria for years, we wonder how people there manage to keep starting from scratch and rebuilding structures. KRC's story is an impressive example: in 2012, the rescue organization was founded in response to the conflicts in the region. Only two years older than CADUS, KRC has since evolved from a group of volunteers into a region-wide, independent and professional emergency response organization that strictly adheres to humanitarian principles and is committed to the Code of Conduct of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. KRC currently operates 44 primary health care clinics, 64 ambulances, and is active in the WASH sector. The organization is rapidly deployed for acute emergency response, as well as engaged in long-term care for people living inside the many camps.
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Author: by Corinna Schäfer