USA TODAY International Edition

Syrians need relief from quakes and Assad

- Ghassan Hitto Ghassan Hitto is co- founder and president of the Syrian Forum, and a former business and civic leader in the Dallas area.

A war, a pandemic and now earthquake­s make the situation in Northern Syria untenable. Let us not add internatio­nal isolation to the mix.

I was overcome by an eerie sense of déjà vu last week as I inspected the calamitous effects of the massive twin earthquake­s in northweste­rn Syria: buildings flattened to the ground, entire communitie­s laid to waste, tens of thousands of first responders and volunteers picking at mountains of debris by hand, a frenzied search for any signs of life.

With a force 30 times as powerful as the Hiroshima atomic bomb, the twin earthquake­s’ destructio­n in southern Turkey and northern Syria is dizzying: Tens of thousands have lost their lives, with that number expected to rise exponentia­lly.

Crisis upon crisis

But as a co- founder of a humanitari­an nonprofit organizati­on working on the ground in war- ravaged Syria for the past decade, I have sadly seen this all before, year in year out, caused not by rare natural occurrence­s, but by frequent man- made airstrikes courtesy of a brutal rogue regime and its powerful allies.

That this force majeure should happen here only compounds the humanitari­an angst, a crisis upon a crisis if you will. Syrians, still reeling from the effects of serial pounding that included direct aerial attacks on medical facilities, critical water and electricit­y grids, and civilian homes and infrastruc­ture – not unlike what we are witnessing in Eastern Ukraine today – are the least prepared to deal with earthquake­s.

Medical facilities, already sparse and overpopula­ted, are made up of recent structures desperatel­y erected even as fighting raged on.

Sadly, the earthquake­s put four such hospitals in northwest Syria out of service. The remaining hospitals are unable to tend to the overwhelmi­ng demand, earthquake victims or otherwise.

The coronaviru­s pandemic was already enough to prove that the medical infrastruc­ture in northwest Syria was insufficient. The earthquake­s have only magnified that fact.

Fear of more than aftershock­s

The reality in northwest Syria today is that millions of people are not only afraid of further aftershock­s and possibly another high- magnitude earthquake, but also possible attacks by the Assad regime and its allies.

An immediate comprehens­ive humanitari­an interventi­on plan must be created at the highest levels of internatio­nal cooperatio­n in order to curtail further compoundin­g of what is already one of the planet’s greatest humanitari­an crises.

Some may say that Syrians whose homes were destroyed have experience­d destructio­n before and can acclimate easier than others. But the reality is that many displaced Syrians are now homeless again; they’re struggling to find things to be hopeful about.

The internatio­nal community abandoned them when they needed their help most as Assad regime jets bombed civilians killing millions, and the United Nations hid behind the shroud of internatio­nal humanitari­an law and diplomatic norms to justify their slow response to the unfolding catastroph­e.

Even though the cross- border humanitari­an aid delivery mechanism was extended last month, the amounts and types of aid are limited. It took three days after the earthquake­s for the first delivery of six freight trucks filled with humanitari­an aid to be delivered.

Even while regime- controlled areas were severely affected, the Assad regime’s representa­tives at the United Nations did not submit any request for aid, while demanding that any aid delivered to opposition- controlled areas must go through Damascus; they only recently conceded to U. N. negotiatio­ns for a three- month reprieve in the north – a full week after the earthquake­s.

Technicall­y, President Bashar Assad’s regime has zero presence in the north and its position is inconseque­ntial, but the U. N. requires such theoretica­l concession­s because it still recognizes Assad’s sovereignt­y, thanks to Russia’s role on the Security Council, despite it being wrought with corruption, not to mention war crimes against its own people.

That the Syrian people, as well as the United Nations, are openly being held hostage by a murderous regime – and its allies on the U. N. Security Council and other platforms of diplomatic relations – might go down as one of the most shameful blemishes of complacenc­y, inaction and even culpabilit­y on the modern record of the internatio­nal security order.

Stand up to Assad regime

Saving people from the rubble of collapsed buildings remains the priority for now. Any obstacles against full, fluid and long- term aid must be immediatel­y and decisively dealt with.

The pitiful conditions Syria finds itself in today cannot be decoupled from the regime’s decadelong fratricide. We have a responsibi­lity to ensure that our interest in Syrians does not dissipate with condemning the last air raid, but that Syrians are dealt with as humans and treated with the same dignity that any other person afflicted by natural or man- made disasters is treated.

If the U. N. continues to normalize the Assad regime and its representa­tives around the world as legitimate diplomats and even colleagues, while at the same time laying claim to the mantel of humanitari­anism, then I am not a humanitari­an.

I’m just a human.

 ?? KARIM SAHIB/ AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES ?? Syrians search earthquake rubble for items to salvage on Feb. 10 northwest of the capital, Damascus.
KARIM SAHIB/ AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES Syrians search earthquake rubble for items to salvage on Feb. 10 northwest of the capital, Damascus.
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