Syria’s silent rubble reproaches the UN’s resounding failure

By | February 15, 2023

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad writes:

On a slab of concrete in the rubble of northwest Syria appears a new graffiti. “We are dead,” it reads, “Thanks for letting us down.” The graffiti speaks for the many who were trapped under fallen structures in the wake of last week’s earthquake, whose lives could have been saved, yet whose voices have since fallen silent.

Two days after the disaster struck, the United Nations’ Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths tweeted, “The first 72 hrs after a disaster are critical. We have coordinated the deployment of over 4,948 search & rescue experts and #UNDAC emergency response teams soon after the earthquake shook #Türkiye and #Syria.” A hundred and fifty hours later, not a single search and rescue expert had arrived in northwest Syria. The 22 trucks the U.N. sent after five days’ delay only carried hygiene kits, solar lamps, blankets, mattresses and tents.

Samantha Power, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), was quicker to respond. Within hours of the earthquake, she tweeted that USAID had “just deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART)” and that “The U.S. is in the process of deploying @USAID Urban Search and Rescue teams from Fairfax and Los Angeles County Fire Departments to work alongside them.” And yet, a week later, not a single search and rescue team had entered Syria.

Within hours of the earthquake, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had promised: “Europe’s support is already on the way and we stand ready to continue helping in any way we can.” Von der Leyen is known for her decisiveness. In early 2020, when a Russian and Syrian regime offensive drove nearly a million people from their homes in Idlib, some of whom started fleeing to the West, she rushed to Greece to give $780 million to its government to fortify its border against refugees. One week after the earthquake, no EU aid or emergency teams had arrived in northwestern Syria.

The earthquake has revealed a pattern of failure in the U.N.’s humanitarian response, which in turn encourages the international community’s inaction. This pattern is defined by the U.N.’s privileging of state authority over the needs of the affected. It has consistently let people down in disaster zones where the state has contributed to the misfortune and is reluctant to assist. The U.N.’s response in northwest Syria is the chronicle of a betrayal foretold. [Continue reading…]

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