In the past decade, Syrian people have suffered the unparalleled hardships of brutal civil war and mass displacement. Earlier this month, they were struck by another calamity, as massive earthquakes left more than 50.000 people dead and nearly 2 million people without a roof over their heads in Syria and Türkiye.
The international community quickly rallied behind Türkiye, immediately dispatching rescue teams and sending humanitarian and financial help. Rescue teams from all over the world started arriving in the Turkish hot zones on day 1, saving countless lives.
On the other hand, Syria received no such spotlight, and rescuers have lamented the lack of desperately needed assistance in Northwestern Syria. The absence of professional rescue teams and the lack of medical supplies and heavy machinery during the first 140 hours has led to a needless loss of innocent lives, which could have been avoided by early intervention.
Just days after the first earthquake, the Syrian government reached out to the EU and asked for much needed assistance, but the response clearly failed in comparison to its next-door neighbor.
Syrian diplomats from around the globe are more than doing their part to rally support for the victims. Even in the Philippines where Syria is represented by its Consul General Mohammed Issam el-Debs, who has been working tirelessly to ask for support from the Philippine government, other diplomats, the private sector and just about anyone else who can help.
Despite calls for an urgent increase in humanitarian aid, trucks are still struggling to reach Syria. In Damascus, only planes bearing humanitarian aid from Arab countries such as the UAE, Iraq, Algeria and Saudi Arabia land regularly. Western aid remains absent as the US and EU countries refuse to provide assistance to Assad’s regime. Sanctions targeting Assad’s regime are also interfering with the efforts to deliver desperately needed humanitarian aid to people.
Was the response of the United Nations enough? UN Secretary-General António Guterres announced a $397 million humanitarian appeal good for only 3 months.
While the West has failed the people of Syria in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, what it can do now is help alleviate the consequences. Dozens of thousands have lost their homes, and major rebuilding projects will require vast financial expenditures that the war-torn country cannot afford by itself. Western sanctions have effectively cut Syria from the global economy, causing a minor economic crisis in the country. Failure to properly address the consequences of the earthquake, combined with the economic hardships could also have political implications and lead to a reemergence of active hostilities.
It is in the interest of all parties, including the West, to prevent such a scenario. The main thing the West should do to help stabilize the humanitarian and political situation is to drop the sanctions regime immediately. More than 200 Syrian organizations have urged the UN and key donors to come up with an emergency response plan, emphasizing that sanctions targeting Assad and his officials should not affect the ordinary people or the delivery of humanitarian aid. Western sanctions are purely punitive in nature and have been making the lives of ordinary citizens hard while doing little to help end the war.
The EU has amended restrictive measures in place regarding Syria, and humanitarian organizations no longer need to seek prior permission from competent authorities to provide financial and other aid, and the US has eased its own sanctions regime for 6 months. But it is not enough – the Syrian government needs to be able to generate enough revenue by itself in order to stabilize the situation, which it can’t do while the sanction regime is in place.
The way how international community responds to this crisis could not only help alleviate the consequences of the disaster, but also have a positive impact on the political situation in the country and help facilitate reconciliation between various warring parties.