Global support for Syria needed to rebuild human life

Global support for Syria needed to rebuild human life

Global support for Syria needed to rebuild human life
A general view shows al-Zahraa neighborhood of Aleppo destroyed following years of conflict in Syria. (AFP file)
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Reconstruction, after destructive events such as earthquakes and wars, typically becomes a priority on various international economic agendas. In parts of the Arab world that have suffered internal conflict, such as Iraq, Yemen and Syria, discussions about reconstruction have taken different courses and continue to have diverging outcomes given the varying conditions in these countries. In all cases, however, stability is viewed by stakeholders as a precursor to a healthy appetite for international investors and donors.

In the Syrian case, reconstruction has been as protracted a topic as the conflict itself. But given the devastation left behind by the recent earthquake, the humanitarian crisis has become of a scale that necessitates immediate action.

An international donors’ conference for Turkiye and Syria was held in Brussels this week. Its purpose was to coordinate the global relief response to the devastating earthquake that hit the two countries in early February. Monday’s conference was open to all EU member states and neighboring countries, as well as the UN, global financial institutions and various other stakeholders involved in humanitarian relief efforts.

In anticipation of the conference, the UN Development Program prepared a report on reconstruction and rehabilitation needs, while the World Health Organization issued a number of guiding requests. Among other things, the WHO called for lifesaving health support for 8.8 million people affected by the earthquake and its aftermath, among whom it estimated 4.9 million people were most severely impacted. For Syria, the WHO’s appeal put the health response cost at $33.7 million, of which $24.5 million was pledged by various international stakeholders and countries ahead of the conference.

Underlining the “legendary resilience” of the Syrian people, Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, the WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean regional director, said they had been tested like never before by the recent earthquake. He also noted the repeated crises and disasters that the Syrian people have been enduring for more than a decade. For Syrians to emerge and recover from this latest catastrophe, the top global health official in the region stressed, the need for assistance is urgent.

Volunteers on the ground are raising the alarm that more help is needed with the psychological needs of survivors

Tala Jarjour

With the WHO estimating that 70 percent of the country’s population will need humanitarian assistance this year, Al-Mandhari’s words could not come at a more pressing moment for Syria. But despite huge limitations on resources, both material and human, the WHO’s reporting on the current situation and needs is as revealing as it is pertinent.

Over and above the lack of basic life needs in the shelters currently used by earthquake survivors, overcrowding and inadequate sanitation are among the main concerns of WHO experts. Their greatest fear, both in the short and long terms, is the spread of diseases, which could cause risks to even more people than the number that lost their lives in the earthquake. This fear, one might note, is not limited to physical diseases, it also touches on the emotional and psychological side of human health.

There are immediate and evident needs to be addressed concerning human health. Most common are injuries and life-threatening illnesses, such as diabetes, hypertension and urgent vaccinations. In the case of earthquake survivors, specific risks are becoming common challenges. Significant in Syria today is kidney failure, which can occur as a result of complications from injuries to the limbs and muscles, and is associated with crush syndrome, among other conditions. Specialized equipment, such as kidney dialysis machines, are desperately lacking. But beyond the injured body, complications such as these leave the victim, as well as their family and loved ones, under added pressures and losses, which exacerbate stress and uncertainty for the future.

In addition to medication, medical supplies and equipment, community volunteers on the ground, as well as WHO workers, are raising the alarm that more help is needed with the psychological needs of survivors. Forced to address the invisible trauma of the earthquake, first responders who had in some cases received training in psychological first aid are facing an overwhelming problem. The current scale of need on the ground is as grave as the shock that this catastrophe has caused, if not more so.

It is common knowledge that a full recovery from any sort of physical injury would not be complete without physical rehabilitation therapy, and this too is a stated need among those for which the WHO is fundraising for resources. But another sort of rehabilitation is necessary in the Syrian case, namely psychological therapy, and this is crucial for the recovery of the earthquake survivors’ mental health. Any discussion of reconstruction efforts in Syria must, if the WHO’s contribution to this week’s donors’ conference is anything to go by, start from rebuilding the shattered selves and bodies of its people.

Tala Jarjour, Ph.D. (cantab), is the author of “Sense and Sadness: Syriac Chant in Aleppo.” She is Visiting Research Fellow at King’s College London and Associate Fellow at the Yale College.

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