The Maras-centered earthquakes destroyed more than a hundred buildings in Syria and Rojava. 3,581 people lost their lives and 5,348 were injured. Thousands are still under the rubble in the Turkish-occupied areas as the death toll is not disclosed.
The 7.8 and 7.7 magnitude quakes, centred in the Pazarcik and Elbistan districts of North Kurdistan’s Maras province, were strongly felt in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq as well. The earthquakes caused great destruction in the Syrian provinces of Idlib, Aleppo, Hama, Latakia and Tartus, as well as in the cities of Shehba, Kobanê, Manbij and Raqqa controlled by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, and in occupied Afrin.
The latest situation in Syria and North and East Syria is as follows:
The cities of Afrin and Idlib, occupied by the Turkish state, are among the places devastated by the earthquakes. While hundreds of buildings were destroyed, the death toll and the scale of the destruction in these regions are not disclosed. According to information obtained from the Afrin Human Rights Organization, there is a humanitarian disaster in Afrin, where hundreds of people were trapped under the rubble.
Afrin: Turkish-occupied Afrin is the most affected city by the earthquake which inflicted serious damage to the city centre and the districts of Jindires and Mabata. The number of casualties in the city is not revealed. 257 buildings were destroyed completely in Jindires district, which is 20 kilometres away from the city centre. Reports say that at least 756 people lost their lives under these buildings and thousands of people are still under the rubble. 70 percent of the Kaxırê village in the southwest of Mabata was also destroyed. It is reported that hundreds of people are still under the rubble as no reliable information can be obtained from the village.
Idlib: The regions of Atarib, Sarmada, Harim, Bisnia, Salqim, Azmarin and Keferhom in the city of Idlib, which remains under the occupation of Turkey-backed Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), were also damaged by the earthquakes. It is reported that 718 buildings were destroyed in the city where 195 towns and villages were affected by the earthquakes. The Al-Tilol village was flooded as the Asian Dam on the Turkey-Syria border was partially damaged. The number of deaths and injuries remains unknown, like other occupied territories.
REGIONS HELD BY DAMASCUS GOVERNMENT
The provinces of Aleppo, Hama, Latakia and Tartus held by the Damascus government were significantly damaged. The Ministry of Health reported that 1,408 people lost their lives and 2,341 were injured in the areas under their control due to the earthquakes.
Aleppo: Theneighbourhoods of Al Shaar, Musharaqa, Paradise, Salahaddin, Al Kelasa and Aziziye in the east of Aleppo were devastated by the earthquakes. Damascus government officials reported that about 4,000 people lost their lives and around 7,000 people were injured or unaccounted for.
Latakia: The town of Jabla and the neighbourhood of Ramla Janubi are the most affected areas. 102 buildings in central and rural Latakia were destroyed. While 506 people lost their lives, 792 others were injured.
Hama: The Erbain region in the north of the city is the most affected area. 47 people lost their lives, and 75 others were injured in Hama.
AUTONOMOUS ADMINISTRATION OF NORTH AND EAST SYRIA
The Health Committee of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) announced that 6 people lost their lives and 57 people were injured in the areas under their control. In the Sheikh Maqsoud (Şêx Meqsud) and Ashrafiyah (Eşrefiye) neighbourhoods of Aleppo, 6 people lost their lives and 47 people were injured. 5 people were injured in Shehba, 3 in Kobanê and 2 in Manbij.
6 people lost their lives in Babinis and Til Qerah villages of Shehba Canton and in the Sheikh Maqsoud and Ashrafiyah neighbourhoods where Kurds predominantly live.
2,000-YEAR-OLD CASTLE DAMAGED
The Najim Castle, located on the Euphrates River and 115 kilometres from Aleppo, was also affected by the earthquake in North and East Syria. A part of the eastern wall of the castle, which dates back to 68 AD, was demolished.
BAB AL-HAWA BORDER CROSSING AFFECTED
The Bab Al-Hawa Border Gate between Turkey and Syria under Turkish occupation in the city of Idlib was also affected by the earthquake. The roads leading to the border crossing were damaged. Aid to earthquake victims in Syria is delivered through the Bab Al-Hawa Border Gate.
625 SCHOOLS DAMAGED
Many schools run by the AANES and the Damascus government were also damaged by the earthquakes. According to the data collected by the North and East Syrian Education Committee, 15 schools in Ayn Issa, Kobanê and Sirin in the Euphrates Region were damaged, and education has been suspended for 7 days. 138 schools were damaged, and 6 schools were closed in Manbij. 9 schools were damaged in Deir ez-Zor. In Raqqa, 115 schools were damaged, and 36 of them were closed. 41 schools were damaged in Tabqa, but schools will continue education once engineers finish the repair work. In Shehba Region, 15 schools were damaged, and 5 schools became unusable. In the Cizre Region, 39 schools were damaged.
According to official data released by the Damascus government, 248 schools were damaged in the areas under their control.
MUNICIPALITY STEPS INTO ACTION
The Local Administrations and Environmental Management Committee of North and East Syria provided the following information to ANF:
Afrin-Shehba Region: Shehba People’s Municipality cooperated with the assembly and commune organizations in the region to help earthquake victims. Construction materials such as cement, soil and gravel were provided for the local people for the repair of the damaged structures.
Euphrates Region: A joint committee was established in cooperation with the Euphrates Region Chamber of Engineers. People in the Euphrates region applied to the municipality for the repair of 68 buildings. Municipal teams checked 88 buildings and reported that 15 buildings, including petrol stations and schools, were damaged. The wreckage of 31 damaged structures was removed.
Tabqa: The Emergency Teams and firefighters affiliated with the Tabqa Local Administration Committee assessed the extent of the damage caused by the earthquakes. An emergency committee was established under the Local Administration Committee. Moreover, a committee was formed to identify and examine the damaged buildings and to take the necessary measures. A damaged earth-sheltered house was demolished, and 7 houses were repaired. Two buildings in the city centre were evacuated as a precaution.
There were no serious regulations and countermeasures for earthquakes in North-East Syria as in the whole of Syria, since earthquakes and natural disasters have almost never been experienced.
What are the laws concerning earthquake countermeasures of the Autonomous Administration and the Damascus government? How do they deal with zoning plans, illegal structures and countermeasures?
During the period when Rojava was under the control of the Damascus government, almost nothing was done about earthquakes in the region. After its establishment, the Democratic Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) focused more on development plans, the fight against illegal structures, and the construction of stronger structures. Before the earthquake, no serious activity was carried out to deal with earthquakes in North-East Syria. Geological and civil engineers conducted investigations in the region and the type of structures to be built according to the regions were determined. After the recent earthquakes in the region, the Autonomous Administration institutions have introduced many countermeasures for future earthquakes. Discussions are currently being held to inspect the existing zoning plans in detail, to identify illegal structures and to take the necessary precautions.
Şîlan Ehmed, a member of the North-East Syrian Local Administrations and Environment Committee, answered ANF’s questions about their aid efforts for the last 8 days and countermeasures against new disasters and illegal structures.
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400 DAMAGED BUILDINGS IDENTIFIED
Ehmed said: “Six of our citizens lost their lives in the Autonomous Administration region in North-East Syria. 57 citizens were injured. In the city of Aleppo, 216 buildings were damaged and 813 families living in them were affected. 52 buildings were damaged in Kobanê and necessary work is being carried out concerning these buildings. In the city of Manbij, 125 buildings were damaged. Damaged and cracked buildings in our region have been evacuated and residents have been provided shelter. Assessment of damaged structures is done by the Chamber of Engineers and municipal teams under the umbrella of the Democratic Society Movement (TEV-DEM). After the assessments, the structures that need to be demolished are pulled down by taking the necessary precautions. Repair and strengthening of columns are carried out for partially damaged buildings. After a one-week assessment, we saw that around 400 more buildings need to be demolished or repaired. Our teams in Aleppo, Manbij and Kobanê are working without interruption for 24 hours.”
BUILDING CONTROL WAS DISCUSSED ONE MONTH BEFORE EARTHQUAKES
Recalling that a workshop was held for the construction of stronger structures before the earthquake, Ehmed said: “A month before the earthquake, a workshop was held with the participation of all engineers in North-East Syria. There were participants from many countries, such as France and Italy. The issues that concern construction of safer buildings were discussed in detail.”
ZONING PLANS AND ILLEGAL BUILDINGS
Ehmed also gave information about the zoning plans and their work against illegal structures in the region. She said: “In line with the research carried out in the region before the earthquake, a law was introduced concerning the maximum number of floors to be allowed according to the regions. In some places, three-storey buildings can be built, in others four-storey buildings. In some places, tall buildings should not be allowed at all. We have projects and criminal sanctions over this issue. Buildings built without paying attention to the necessary rules and the municipal laws are the biggest problem in the region. Last year, fines were imposed against more than 4,000 buildings in the Cizîre Region alone. 99 unsafe structures were demolished. The situation is almost the same in Manbij, Kobanê and other regions. We do not opt for demolition, but we are working for safer and stronger buildings. Our Kobanê Municipality has now started to demolish all the storeys that were built illegally. Some special machines are needed to prevent demolition and strengthen the columns. Millions of dollars should be funded for earthquake-related studies. Due to our limited resources, we allow the construction of buildings with fewer storeys. New disasters will emerge if the necessary measures are not taken.”
“Previously, the Damascus government did not introduce any law for earthquakes. There is no strong draft law against earthquakes and natural disasters in North-East Syria. There is a law that mostly concerns the construction of buildings and zoning plans. We have failed to be effective in this regard, therefore we self-criticize. But we organize our work to prevent further disasters.”
The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) responded to the earthquake in a very short time and is now helping other parts of the country despite limited means.
The Autonomous Administration rushed to the aid of the earthquake victims in the cities of North and East Syria the fastest way possible thanks to strong solidarity. This successful solidarity was made possible through the communes and assemblies, which are the backbone of the autonomous system based on self-government. Heyva Sor a Kurd (Kurdish Red Crescent), which was established in Rojava in 2012, is one of the organizations working successfully in solidarity with the earthquake victims. After the earthquake victims in North and East Syria were taken care of, the people living in the region and their self-government expressed that they were ready to help other parts of Syria as well. In a short time, hundreds of aid trucks and fuel tankers containing basic needs, food and medical equipment were delivered to other parts of Syria.
SDF AND AUTONOMOUS ADMINISTRATION WENT INTO ACTION
In a statement on February 6, when the earthquake occurred, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said: “We share the painful suffering of our people in all Syrian territories caused by the devastating earthquake that struck the region, and we ask Allah Almighty to console the victims with His infinite mercy, grant speedy recovery for the injured and protect our people from any harm. Our forces stand ready to provide immediate assistance to overcome the earthquake aftermath in all Syrian territories, including providing relief support and sending rescue teams to the disaster-stricken areas. Our forces also offer their condolences to the people in the cities of Maraş and Antep and all areas in northern Kurdistan that were stricken by the earthquake, and we express our solidarity with them at this difficult time.”
ALL BORDER CROSSINGS OPENED
The Autonomous Administration Executive Council Co-Presidency made a statement after its meeting on February 8 and said: “All the border crossings in the Autonomous Administration regions will remain open to enable the delivery of humanitarian aid from outside to all regions affected by the earthquake in Syria.”
On February 9, the Autonomous Administration of the Cizre Region and on February 12, the Autonomous Administration of the Euphrates Region launched aid campaigns to help the earthquake victims in North Kurdistan and North-East Syria. The aid organized by the people and organizations in all cities of North and East Syria was delivered to the border crossings in Umm al-Julud (between Manbij and Jarablus), Al-Tayha (between Manbij and Aleppo) and Awn Al-Dadat (between Manbij and Jarablus).
AID FOR OCCUPIED REGIONS
An aid campaign organized by the AANES regions was introduced not only for the regions of the Damascus government, but also for the earthquake victims in the regions occupied by the Turkish state and allied mercenary groups. The first aid convoy entered the occupied regions in the north and east of Syria on February 13 via Doctors Without Borders through the border crossings between Manbij and Jarablus. After the first aid convoy consisting of 53 trucks and vehicles, a second convoy consisting of 66 trucks containing food and medical supplies departed.
Sozdar Ehmed from Heyva Sor a Kurd in North and East Syria answered ANF’s questions regarding their institutional solidarity.
Ehmed said: “The earthquake in our region created fear among people. The public had high expectations from Heyva Sor a Kurd following the earthquake. An extraordinary meeting was held with the participation of the Autonomous Administration, the People’s Municipality, the Internal Security Forces, the Self-Defense Forces and the Health Committee. A collective work was carried out in solidarity. After this meeting, we decided to set up tents for the survivors who were staying in their cars.”
“We started a humanitarian aid for our people from Dêrîk to Manbij. Following the earthquake, citizens began to take shelter in their cars. Those who did not have vehicles remained on the streets. In a short time, we set up tents for the people in all cities from Dêrîk to Manbij. Blankets were distributed to the citizens. We dispatched emergency teams to 10 cities according to their populations. A medical team was tasked to transport the seriously ill patients to hospitals.”
AID FOR SHEHBA AND ALEPPO
Ehmed stated that they could send aid to Shehba and Aleppo on February 7 due to the embargo policy of the Damascus government. When they wanted to go to the region themselves, the obstacles stopped them. “We delivered many tents and blankets to Shehba and Aleppo within 24 hours. Aid activities for these regions were carried out jointly with non-governmental organizations. We also donated a small amount of money. As Heyva Sor a Kurd, we mobilized all our means available. With our team, we decided to move to Shehba and Aleppo to provide food, tents, blankets, medical supplies and fuel. We have been waiting at the border gates for 6 days, but the Damascus government does not allow us to cross into the region. We have constantly stated that our health teams are ready to meet the needs of the Syrian peoples. Despite our calls to all concerned institutions and organizations, the gates have not been opened. We expressed our readiness to deliver aid from Afrin to Damascus, but the Damascus government does not open the gates. We are now waiting at the al-Tayha gate between Manbij and Aleppo. We will not take a step back; our steps will always be forward-looking.”
6-MONTH PROJECT FOR EARTHQUAKE-HIT AREAS
Remarking that a six-month project for the earthquake-hit areas has been introduced, Ehmed said: “A team of doctors from Heyva Sor a Kurdistan will come to the region on the 20th of this month. A three-month project has been introduced for the Euphrates Region, a 15-day project for the Cizre Region, and a six-month project for Aleppo and Shehba. The priority of the projects is to provide nutritional requirements, heating and basic necessities. The second stage concerns the restoration of the damaged areas. We have also asked for help from international institutions and organizations for these urgent needs, yet their aid is limited.”
Although the international embargo against Syria has been lifted, the Damascus government maintains the embargo against Shehba and Aleppo.
Bedran Çiya Kurd, Co-Chair of the Foreign Relations Department of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), spoke to ANF about the mobilization declared by the Autonomous Administration following the earthquake and the ongoing embargo against the region.
Bedran Çiya Kurd said that Rojava still has not received any help and added that the Autonomous Administration is ready to help the earthquake victims.
‘AID OVERSHADOWED BY POLITICAL MOTIVES’
Bedran Çiya Kurd remarked that the earthquake disaster caused great pain and humanitarian situations in Turkey, Syria and North and East Syria. “This pain continues. It also has economic and political implications. Political motives overshadow the humanitarian aid delivery to the regions controlled by the regime, the occupied regions, Şêxmeqsud (Sheikh Maqsoud) and Eşrefiye (Ashrafiyah) neighbourhoods of Aleppo and even North Kurdistan.
AID CAMPAIGNS OF THE AUTONOMOUS ADMINISTRATION BLOCKED
“There are serious obstacles to our aid campaigns. If political motives become decisive to deal with the humanitarian situation, the suffering of the earthquake survivors will deepen. These wounds will not heal easily. It would lead to very bad results. Thousands of people could have been saved if the intervention had been made on time. Because of the regime’s policy, thousands of people could not be rescued and died under the rubble.
The Autonomous Administration stated that it was ready to help any place or anyone who was harmed, regardless of their identity. It has delivered aid to the earthquake-hit areas. Neither the Syrian regime nor the Turkey-backed armed groups adopted a helpful attitude towards us to deliver aid. Nor do they allow the aid organized by us to reach the earthquake victims. This is not right, and it constitutes a crime against humanity. If humanitarian aid is considered a matter of negotiation based on political stances, it would be a crime against humanity. In fact, the regime should have acted and asked for help. However, unfortunately, the regime wants to use the aid delivered from outside for its own political interests. The US administration and many other countries are putting their problems with the Syrian regime aside because of the current humanitarian situation. Certain sanctions have been suspended temporarily to allow victims access to humanitarian aid. However, we are afraid that the regime could take advantage of it as it did before. What has been done so far confirms our suspicion.”
‘AID SENT TO ALEPPO AND SHEHBA PREVENTED’
“Şêxmeqsud, Eşrefiye and Shehba are now facing huge problems because of the embargo. The regime is preventing aid delivery to these regions. The hostile attitude of the regime is visible. We have concerns that this policy of the regime will prevail. For this reason, the government of Damascus and the Turkish regime and its mercenary groups should stop their discriminatory policies. They should not turn humanitarian aid into a political issue. They should open the border gates and let aid materials reach the earthquake victims. If this is not done, the lives of thousands of people will remain in jeopardy.”
NO HELP DELIVERED TO THE REGION YET
Kurd reminded that the Autonomous Administration remained in close contact with many countries, including those in the international coalition and Europe during the times of humanitarian chaos. He continued: “The current situation here has been reported to public opinion. We have revealed our stance on how to help the victims. All our institutions stated expressed their readiness to help Syria and Turkey. They also stated that they are ready to help North and East Syria. Our dialogue and diplomatic activities to deal with the issue continue. The issue of aid delivery is being discussed in detail. However, as far as we know, no aid has reached the survivors in North and East Syria, the regions controlled by the regime and even North Kurdistan. Concerned institutions should take urgent intervention, help people and save their lives.”