The death and devastation wreaked by Monday’s massive earthquake is greatest in Turkey, but that country is in a far better position to deal with the aftermath than Syria, due to warfare and sanctions.
The civil conflict and proxy interventions have left Syria divided, with 70 per cent of territory held by the government, 25 per cent by the US-backed Syrian Kurds, and 5 per cent by Turkey and surrogate militias.
Pre-earthquake conditions were already catastrophic in northwest Idlib province, which is ruled by al-Qaeda offshoot Hay ‘at Tahrir al-Sham, a Turkish ally. So 65 per cent of foreign humanitarian aid went there, while 35 per cent was allocated to the rest of the sanctions-ridden country.
Roads, power plants, water and electricity networks, schools, hospitals and public buildings were damaged or destroyed by fighting. Industries in the country’s thriving manufacturing and commercial hub, Aleppo, were damaged, gutted and looted. Suburbs of Homs, Aleppo and Damascus were levelled. Farmland was abandoned.
Syria’s oil fields, which produced enough for the domestic market and export, were occupied by Kurdish forces.
More than 500,000 combatants and civilians are estimated to have been killed. Five million Syrians fled the country and six million were displaced. According to the UN, GPD losses are $226 million, with costs of economic disruption far greater than losses from physical destruction.
I am struck by the pervasiveness of the human rights and humanitarian impact of the unilateral coercive measures imposed on Syria
Since major fighting wound down in December 2016, Western sanctions have blocked reconstruction and recovery and negatively impacted the population. Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor has reported that 90 per cent of Syrians live in poverty due to “displacement, severe economic recession, and devaluation of the local currency”. Prices have soared by 800 per cent over the past two years.
Following a tour of Syria last year, UN special rapporteur on human rights Alena Douhan described the impact of sanctions: “I am struck by the pervasiveness of the human rights and humanitarian impact of the unilateral coercive measures imposed on Syria and the total economic and financial isolation of a country whose people are struggling to rebuild a life with dignity, following the decade-long war.”
Karin Leukefeld, a German journalist who was in Syria until Saturday, told The Irish Times that the current situation, before the earthquake, was worse than during her last visit in September. “People are hungry, they go through the rubbish, and there are many beggars. Christian charities which used to give poor people oil and milk now give beggars sandwiches. Government subsides have been cut on bread, sugar and rice.
“Since there is little fuel for heating, people collect paper and plastic to burn in their stoves – if they have stoves. They cut down trees although it is forbidden. The government petrol ration used to be 25 litres a week, now it is 25 litres a month. Petrol on the black market is double [the price].
“In Aleppo, a falafel sandwich which, before the war, cost 25 Syrian poundsnow costs 10,000 (€3.70). Workers’ pay is between 70,000 and 100,000 Syrian pounds, so families can no longer afford the national snack.”