A devastating earthquake of magnitude 7.8 on the Richter scale struck Turkey and Northwest Syria in the early hours of Monday, causing hundreds of buildings to collapse and a very high, as yet undetermined, number of deaths and injuries. “It is the most severe earthquake we have ever experienced, we are hearing reports of many collapsed buildings. It is a catastrophe!”, reported Abdulkafi Alhamdo, Program Manager of Still I Rise in Northwest Syria.
As aftershocks continue, searches are ongoing, and the White Helmets – the volunteer corps officially known as the Syrian Civil Defense – have declared a state of emergency. Communication with people on the ground is difficult at the moment, but the organization’s staff members are all safe. The situation of the students and their families is being assessed. Still I Rises’s Ma’an school building, located in the town of Ad Dana, does not appear to have sustained major damage, but further assessments will follow in the coming hours.
This unprecedented catastrophe adds to the tragic situation experienced daily in Northwest Syria, where one of the most serious humanitarian crises of our century has been unfolding for nearly 12 years. A population of 4.6 million people lives here, including 2.9 million internally displaced persons, just under two-thirds of whom live in camps (OCHA data). Bombings, reprisals, and armed conflict have never stopped, and in December 2022 more than 500 cases of cholera were confirmed, following an outbreak declared a few months earlier – all this amid the total indifference of the international community.
“This earthquake is a natural disaster, but it adds to the devastation in which Northwest Syria finds itself, making everything even more tragic. Due to the absence of infrastructure and the bombing of hospitals that took place over the years, social and health support is almost non-existent. It is too early to have a final estimate of dead and wounded, but unfortunately – because of the tragic condition this area is already in – we fear very high numbers. The situation in Syria no longer makes the news, but merely surviving there is a daily challenge,” said Giulia Cicoli, Advocacy Director at Still I Rise.