At 4:17 on the morning of February 6, Mohammad* and his family were shaken awake by the first of two massive earthquakes which hit large parts of northwestern Syria and southern Turkey (officially renamed Türkiye).
“When the earthquakes shook all the buildings, my wife and I took our children and ran to the school playground,” said Mohammad. “We stood there in the rain, horrified at the devastation we could see around us. Buildings had collapsed and people were trapped inside. The situation was tragic.”
Mohammad and his family were living in a school in Azmarin, in Syria's northern Idlib province, after fleeing conflict near their home in Jabal Al Zawiya, around 40 miles away.
The earthquakes wrought major devastation, resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries and leaving many people without shelter, food, or other basic necessities. The disaster compounded an already desperate humanitarian situation. More than 180,000 people have been displaced by the quakes, adding to the two million people already living in difficult and precarious circumstances after being displaced repeatedly during 12 years of war.
Teams from Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) are responding to people’s medical and humanitarian needs as a result of the disaster. Initially our focus was on bolstering the emergency response capacity of local medical teams and donating essential medicines and medical supplies to health facilities and rescue teams. Today, MSF has scaled up activities in northwestern Syria, running four mobile clinics and distributing essential relief items including mattresses, hygiene items, cleaning materials, and kitchen utensils.
After hours in the cold rain, Mohammad and his family found shelter under some olive trees. Two days later, still reeling from the shock of what had happened, they took to the road in search of refuge, along with other people who were made homeless by the quake. “We kept moving until we reached this reception center,” said Mohammad. “They helped us and took us in.”
Mobile clinics and relief items
In Idlib, Syria, MSF teams have provided 5,667 medical consultations and distributed nearly 31,000 relief items, so far. At the mobile clinics, medics provide wound care, general medical care, care for chronic diseases, sexual and reproductive health care, mental health support, and vaccinations for children.
“The earthquakes have worsened the already dire situation for people in northwestern Syria, where many people live in overcrowded and inadequate conditions with limited access to medical care,” said Dr. Ziad Marzouk, a chronic diseases specialist and member of MSF’s mobile clinic team. “The mobile clinics are providing essential medical care to those who need it most.”
More aid is urgently needed in northwestern Syria
The disaster has highlighted the urgent need for humanitarian aid in northwestern Syria and exposed a forgotten crisis in the region. Despite the aid that has reached some areas in recent days, there is an enormous unmet need for shelter, drinking water, washing facilities, and heating equipment. People are also unable to access health care at a time where the quakes have had a huge impact on people’s psychological wellbeing.
“It is important that the humanitarian response does not fade within weeks of the earthquakes but is instead strengthened and increased,” said Yasser Kamaledin, MSF head of mission for Syria. “The earthquakes have presented new challenges in people’s ability to access basic needs including medical care. So far, in the two weeks since the earthquakes, the humanitarian aid coming into northwestern Syria has been too little and too slow. International aid must be urgently scaled up in order to preserve the lives and dignity of people living in affected areas.”
Like many others, Mohammad and his family are struggling to get through the cold winter nights without mattresses to sleep on or electricity to provide light and warmth.
“During the war, not knowing what would happen, we left our homes thinking we’d be back in a few days,” said Mohammad. “Instead, we ended up with nothing. Now, following the earthquake, the same thing has happened. People are trying to help each other in any way they can, but we need at least mattresses to sleep on and light because there is no electricity. All the families here have been left with nothing.”
*Name changed to protect anonymity.
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