No words can describe the sight of families – most of whom displaced more than once – who had to leave their homes in the freezing cold to take refuge in unsafe streets in the middle of the night.
Region battered by war
In northwest Syria, the quake hit a region already battered by 12 years of conflict, worsening the humanitarian crisis. Today, an estimated 90 percent of the 4.6 million people in north-west Syria are reliant on humanitarian assistance.
Even before the quakes struck, more than half of health facilities had been destroyed, whilst the conflict in Syria has made essentials like food, medicines and fuel, unaffordable for many.
Recently, a deadly cholera outbreak infected more than 85,000 people who don't have access to essential care or services. The country's water supply has been reduced by between 30% and 40%.
The conflict has also forced many families – more than half of the population – to flee their homes. Many have been struggling to survive in makeshift camps, enduring miserable living conditions.
Following the quakes, even those who had a permanent home have nowhere to shelter.
A water system struggling to cope
Aleppo's water system – which is so old that spare parts are no longer available for it – has come under increasing pressure, first from 12 years of conflict and now the earthquake. After losing their homes in the earthquake, more people today are relying on the same system to meet their water needs.
Direct damage to essential parts of the infrastructure reduced the system's efficiency and raised the risk that contaminated water could pollute the supply.
Additionally, many elevated water tanks on the roofs of houses were destroyed by the earthquake, leading to further stress on the system. Parts of the city's sewage system, which was already heavily damaged during the conflict, collapsed, exacerbating the needs in a region already struggling to cope with the effects of more than a decade of conflict.
"The possibility of devastating public health consequences as a knock-on effect from the earthquake is frighteningly high. A new public health emergency such as the spread of infectious diseases would be a disaster for the region," said Fabrizio Carboni, the regional director for the Near and Middle East for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Access to safe drinking water is a challenge affecting millions of people across Syria. Before 2010, 98% of people in cities and 92% of people in rural communities had reliable access to safe water. Today, only 50% of water and sanitation systems function properly across Syria.
Response by the ICRC
We have been providing life-saving support to people in Syria since 1967 and have stepped up our response in light of the growing and urgent humanitarian needs in northwest Syria following the deadly earthquake. We have worked in partnership with the Turkish Red Crescent Society and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) whose volunteers are the first responders but also victims themselves.
Since the earthquakes struck, the ICRC has:RELIEF ASSISTANCE
- Deployed teams to assess the humanitarian situation and bring life-saving assistance to people in urgent need in Aleppo, Latakia and Tartous.
- More than 30,000 people received canned food and relief items in collective shelters in Aleppo, Latakia and Hama, including blankets, mattresses, solar lights, hygiene kits, and kitchen sets.
- Donated surgical medicine, medical supplies and equipment to six hospitals in Aleppo, Latakia and Hama.
- Supported SARC mobile health units to provide basic health services/first aid to people in collective shelters in Aleppo, Latakia and Hama.
- 1,000 body bags were delivered to hospitals and forensics facilities in Aleppo and Latakia.
- Supported SARC teams in Aleppo and Hama with brochures and posters which includes key messages on coping with traumatic events.
- More than 57,000 people in the affected areas are benefiting from different health support activities.
ICRC's work to improve access to water and essential infrastructure in Syria reaches more than 16.5 million people across Syria. This work includes:
- The ICRC supports the Al-Khafsa water treatment plant, located 80 km east of Aleppo city, which is one of the main sources of supplying millions of people with water. Al-Khafsa water treatment plant is irredeemably damaged, and it would take at least five years to rehabilitate this facility under stable conditions. If Al-Khafsa water treatment plant was not functioning, 3.2 million people would be affected with no alternative water source.
- 15 million people were supported by a disinfection programme to ensure safe drinking water in 13 governorates.
- 450,000 people received water delivered by trucks in Aleppo, Rural Damascus, Raqqa, and Hassakeh.
- Nearly 140,000 displaced people and returnees benefited from renovations and upgrading of housing, water, and sanitation in 44 collective shelters and neighbourhoods throughout the country.
- 32 water facilities across the country were rehabilitated and upgraded, and eight hospitals, 62 health points, and one physical rehabilitation centre had their infrastructure improved.
- Around 710,000 people benefited from the infrastructure support to 12 public bakeries – supply of production line, rehabilitation works, and power.
- The water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in over 280 schools and exam centres were rehabilitated – Damascus, Rural Damascus, Daraa, Sweida, Quneitra, Homs, Hama, Lattakia, Raqqa, Deir Ezzor, and Hassakeh governorates.
- Provided 60,000 thermal blankets, 30,000 sleeping bags and 5,000 family tents and larger multipurpose tents to the Turkish Red Crescent Society (Kizilay) to support their response in Türkiye.
We're also sending further medical equipment and essential relief items to cover the needs of thousands more families who lost their homes in the quakes.
Helping people cope in the medium-term
To help people get through the weeks ahead, we plan to:
- Distribute cash assistance to up to 40,000 households to help them meet their essential needs.
- Support hospitals with surgical capacity and medical supplies to ensure the continuity of life-saving operations.
- Provide mental health sessions to help 10,000 children deal with the psychological impacts of the disaster.
- Help separated families reconnect with their loved ones through our Restoring Family Links programme.
Families in Syria need you
Today your donation can make a difference for the most vulnerable.
Ensuring a sustainable response
Our emergency response will not stop in the next few months. We will continue our efforts to help vulnerable people in Syria sustain their lives for the future, through the following actions:
- Distributing cash and providing long-term livelihood support.
- Supporting health care and scaling-up physical rehabilitation services for people with disabilities.
- Repairing damaged schools to ensure children have access to education.
How you can help
The people of Syria need help now. You can make a difference to the most vulnerable. Your support can provide life-saving essentials and help people piece their lives back together.