How Syria Was Slighted In The Midst Of Tragedy

Anna Maher, Journalist

There are some things in our world that we just can’t stop, no matter how much we want to. Earthquakes are one of those things. In the earliest hours of February 6th, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake, followed a few hours later by a 7.6 magnitude earthquake, struck an area mainly stretching across Turkey and Syria. The death toll is still rising a month later and is already higher than 47,000. The UN quickly brought aid to Turkey, citing that it is critical to bring survivors aid within 72 hours. Despite this, Syria didn’t receive any aid for over a week after the quakes, and even then aid was minimal as rescue teams entered the country through a single crossing point. Many ask: why were the responses so different between Turkey and Syria? The simple answer: Assad.


Syria has been in a civil war for over 12 years now, and despite a lack of media coverage their situation has not been getting better. Rebels control many pockets of Syria, especially in the North West where the earthquake struck. The President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, has been blocking aid to these rebel controlled areas. There is even word that he continued to bomb the few buildings left standing in these rebel occupied areas mainly populated by civilians. 


IHS Environmental Science teacher Mrs. LaFrance explains that many people believe the civil war was initially caused by a lack of government aid during an intense drought. “When people feel desperate, they get frustrated and can lash out,” and that’s exactly what happened. In looking at this history, it seems to me that the Syrian government has a tendency to ignore the environmental rights of its people. Mrs. LaFrance explains that these rights are human rights; they encompass basic human needs such as food, water, and shelter.  A person should never be denied them. According to Mrs. LaFrance, this is something that “Corporations have been doing for years.” Controlling access to these three basic needs, like Syria did leading up to the civil war, is an awful and effective way to manipulate the people who rely on those resources. 


Unfortunately controlling access to food and water isn’t the only environmental injustice the Syrian people have faced. President Assad refused to let international aid into the country for over a week, and the UN just sat there. However, according to several reports and legal council, it looks like the UN didn’t need to wait for Assad to approve their aid before helping people. If the UN had made it in faster, they could have helped to rescue families from collapsed buildings and infrastructures. Unfortunately since aid took so long, this form of recovery was almost impossible, and very few survivors made it through that long period under all that rubble.


This brings me to my final point: media. Despite this being one of the worst ever recorded earthquakes, there seems to be a lack of coverage in the news and media. I polled friends from differing backgrounds and different levels of engagement with social media and the news to get a better understanding of what the general public [at least at IHS] understood about this. I asked several questions to assess how much they did know about the situation. Only one, the friend with the least access to social media, had heard of the earthquakes. This friend did not, however, know about the third, 6.4 magnitude earthquake that hit the border between Syria and Turkey just two weeks after the initial two quakes. Personally I had only heard of this through a social media post from a Middle East Matters account and had to do a fair amount of digging to find more information on the subject. 


When I asked my friends about the Assad regime continuing to bomb towns after the earthquakes one friend said they were not surprised. “Stuff in Syria is crazy,” they replied, and when asked if they knew anything more than “stuff in Syria is crazy,” they simply replied “no.” When I asked if they had heard of any news about the war in Ukraine in the last month, all three definitively answered yes. Ukraine is a perfect example of our ability to care about a subject and bring awareness to it through news and individual action. This is the kind of effort we can be putting into all sorts of deserving causes.


Despite this disaster, the people of Syria have shown us their strength and resilience. The Syria Civil Defense, also called the white hats, is a volunteer group of Syrians dedicated to searching the rubble and aiding survivors. Many tragically heartwarming videos of white hats and civilians working together to pull family members out from the rubble have been circulated across the media. They rejoice over every individual victory. They know their government and the rest of the world has failed them, but they are continuing to fight, which is why we must keep fighting for them to be heard.

Feb. 7, 2023. Omar Haj Kadour/AFP via Getty Images