Earthquakes: the issues and challenges of aid delivery in Syria

An earthquake survivor tries to warm up near a fire on February 8 in Aleppo, Syria. © FIRAS MAKDESI / REUTERS

Text by: RFI Follow

3 min

A major donor conference is being held in Brussels on Monday to raise funds for the reconstruction of Turkey and Syria, where entire regions were devastated by the February 6 earthquakes. These two earthquakes killed more than 50,000 people and destroyed tens of thousands of buildings. The reconstruction needs are enormous. This conference of donor countries must therefore be used to raise funds. But it is also necessary that the aid then reaches the people affected. And in the case of Syria, a country under international sanctions, this is complicated.


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The objective of this donor conference is to raise funds to respond to the humanitarian emergency, but also for the reconstruction of the areas affected by the earthquake. "People in Turkey and Syria need to know that we are with them in the long term," von der Leyen said ahead of the conference.

The needs are immense: in Turkey alone, the UN estimates that earthquake damage is expected to exceed $100 billion and currently resources are insufficient according to NGOs on the ground. So far, the EU has allocated a total of almost €12 million to meet the needs of the Turkish population and mobilised €10 million to address the aftermath of the earthquake in Syria. But the delivery of international humanitarian aid has been slower and more complicated for Syrians, especially those living in rebel-held areas in the country's northwest.

Survivors still lack tents for shelter and in the camps that have emerged, sanitary conditions are very difficult. Lubna Kanawati is an exiled Syrian activist and director of the NGO Women Now, which helps women in Idlib and the devastated suburbs of Aleppo. "The problem is that these temporary shelters lack everything. They are even far from the standards of camps usually built for displaced people. These camps have no toilets, no access to water. There is not even drinking water.


Requests for tents have exploded. First of all, of course, for the victims, but we also see many people who, for fear of another earthquake, set up tents behind their homes. As a result, the price of a tent has been multiplied by 6. We went from $50 before the earthquake to $300 today! Some are looking for iron, textiles to make their own tents, but it remains very expensive.

In Syria, people lack tents

Nicolas Feldmann

This Monday, the amount of money collected is not the only issue. Because Syria is a country under sanctions, which complicates the work of local actors who are best able to help, says Lubna Kanawati. "We see in this crisis that local teams were the first to respond. And they have done and are still doing a great and very important job of meeting people's needs. So these organizations need to be supported. There needs to be financial support and fewer restrictions to transfer the money.


The other challenge of aid to Syria is the political use made of it by the regime or rebel groups. Its delivery therefore requires the establishment of control mechanisms. "Before, there were international institutions in Turkey like Ocha that coordinated the entry of humanitarian aid into Syria," recalls Lubna Kanawati. I believe that a similar mechanism has already been created in situations of natural disasters and that what has been done elsewhere can be used to control or at least monitor this aid so that it is not politicised. Because it's not just about who's going to get what, but we have to control all of that.


One of the challenges of this donors' conference will therefore be to efficiently channel this new aid without supporting Bashar al-Assad. In any case, the Syrian Government will not be represented today in Brussels. Turkey sends its foreign minister.

More funding is needed. There are many organizations that have had to cancel distributions of tents, food, for lack of funding. We will have to rebuild entire villages, schools, hospitals...

Bahia Zrikem, advocacy officer at the NGO Norwegian refugees council

Nicolas Feldmann

Also listen: Turkey-Syria earthquake: political and geopolitical consequences

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  • Turkey
  • Syria
  • European Union