The earthquake in Turkey and Syria has claimed 22,000 lives and destroyed the homes of many more. But getting help to survivors in Syria is difficult.
In the city of Aleppo in Syria, home to nearly two million people, 232 churches, mosques, town halls, and schools have been quickly converted into temporary homes. They have become safe spaces for earthquake victims who have lost all their belongings, vital medicine, and many also their entire savings as most families have been keeping cash at home because bank systems in Syria do not work.
DanChurchAid’s partners distribute mattresses, blankets, kitchen equipment, hygiene kits, medicine, and food from local storerooms while new supplies are transported from the capital Damascus.
“We are getting aid to Aleppo and other cities in northwest Syria through our local faith-based partners. They use their local knowledge to identify all available options for accommodation and they deplete their storerooms of anything that can help,” says Jonas Nøddekær, International Director at DanChurchAid.
Earthquake areas permeated by war and militarization
But the relief operation in Syria is complicated.
“It is a country ravaged by 12 years of civil war, which is now hit by the worst earthquake in the region for almost 100 years. The cities in northwest Syria were already devastated by the civil war, 90 percent of the population in the earthquake-hit areas were already dependent on aid – and access to the worst-hit areas and coordination of aid is very difficult,” says Jonas Nøddekær and explains further:
“In more functional states, aid organisations like DanChurchAid knows which authorities to turn to. But in Syria, the earthquake-hit areas are controlled by various actors. Some are under the control of the Bashar al-Assad regime, rebels and opponents of the Syrian regime control others. The country is permeated by war and militarisation, making it difficult to navigate and know who to contact and collaborate with to get aid,” says Jonas Nøddekær.
Local partners navigate through chaos
Therefore, DanChurchAid is wholly dependent on local partners in the ACT Alliance network, including Norwegian Church Aid, who has worked in northwest Syria for many years.
“Our local partners are used to navigating northwest Syria across opponents and supporters of the Assad regime, religious and ethnic groups, and political and geopolitical actors who fight each other and prevent peace in Syria,” concludes Jonas Nøddekær.
DanChurchAid also works in northeastern Kurdish-controlled Syria, which is not as severely affected by the earthquake, with mine clearance and humanitarian aid to internally displaced people and host communities.
ACT Alliance (Action by Churches Together) is a global network of 142 faith-based and humanitarian organisations carrying out development and disaster work in more than 120 countries worldwide.