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'Earthquake is a huge blow to the people in Syria'

“The earthquake adds an extra dramatic dimension to the situation in Syria,” says Marjanne van Vliet, director of ZOA in Syria. The team in Syria are working hard to provide relief after a heavy earthquake hit the country, where a humanitarian disaster has already been going on for twelve years.

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zoa provides relief after earthquake syria

‘Terrible combination of circumstances’

"Extremely tragic," says Marjanne van Vliet, director of ZOA in Syria, about the situation in northern Syria, which was struck by a violent earthquake on Monday. "A humanitarian disaster has been going on in Syria for twelve years already. Many basic facilities were already collapsing before the earthquake. The cold weather now makes the situation even more dramatic."

A strong earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8 on the Richter scale hit Turkey and Syria on Monday morning. The earthquake's epicentre was near the Turkish city of Gaziantep, close to the border with Syria. This was followed by a second quake in central Turkey, measuring 7.7 on the Richter scale, which was also strongly felt in Syria. Over 40.000 people lost their lives. Many people are still missing.

“This is a huge blow to the people in Syria,” Marjanne says. “We are dealing with a country that was in crisis for years before the earthquake. We were already providing emergency aid because of the huge lack of water, food and shelter in the country. Especially in winter.”

Syria earthquake

Marjanne works for ZOA in Damascus – about 400 kilometers from the epicentre of the earthquake. “We were awakened at 4:30 am by the earthquake,” she recalls. “Fortunately, everyone on our team is safe, including our colleagues in Aleppo. But they have gone through incredible fears.”

Many people in northern Syria, including ZOA employees in Aleppo, spent the first night after the earthquake outside in the cold. "They don't dare to enter their houses yet because of the danger of collapse," Marjanne explains. “The situation is very uncertain for them, also because so many friends and acquaintances are still missing.”

Marjanne calls the situation in the country "extremely tragic". Syria was already in a major crisis, both because of the damage from the conflict and the huge economic problems. “There has been a serious shortage of basic facilities for years. We have long been sounding the alarm about the lack of clean water, food and medical care.

In Aleppo there was already an incredible amount of damage from the conflict of the past twelve years. In many cases, the quality of the buildings people lived in was no longer good. "It's a terrible turn of events."

Marjanne van Vliet

On top of all this, winter set in in Syria last week. This makes the situation even worse. “It is raining and windy at the moment. It snows in the mountains. It's bitterly cold.” In winter, even more people are without access to safe shelter. “The earthquake adds an extra dramatic dimension to the situation.”

Marjanne and her colleagues are currently busy starting up emergency aid in northern Syria. “It is important that we coordinate with other organisations and local partners,” she says. “We look closely at who can do what, where we can get goods from and what is safe.”

It is an advantage that there was already relief work going on in the area. As a result, coordination structures are already in place. The energy crisis however makes this emergency aid more difficult, Marjanne says. There is little fuel available, which complicates logistics.

Together with other organisations and local partners, ZOA is now working to obtain as many goods as possible from within Syria and abroad. “Shelter, food, water, any help people can get is welcome,” Marjanne says. “Fortunately, we can scale up. As quickly as possible, we would like to make a difference to many people in need and uncertainty at the moment.”

Earthquake Syria

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