Syria Earthquake Emergency
Project location: SYRIA
Project start date: February 2023 - Project end date: December 2023
Project number: 2023-013
Beneficiary: United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees
Early on 6 February, two powerful earthquakes of 7.7 and 7.5 magnitude struck Kahramanmaraş province in southeastern Türkiye. The earthquakes struck early in the morning while most people were in their beds sleeping, leaving many people trapped inside buildings as they collapsed. Heroic search and rescue efforts were launched immediately, but the devastation has been vast.
The earthquakes – which struck in the peak of winter – impacted 9.1 million people over the 11 hardest-hit provinces in Türkiye, which hosts the largest refugee population in the world. More than 1.7 million refugees, mostly Syrian, reside in the affected provinces. In Syria, an estimated 8.8 million individuals have been affected by the earthquakes, including in northwest Syria where over 4.1 million people were already dependent on aid which includes an estimated 2.9 million internally displaced people, some living in tents, flimsy shelters and under difficult conditions. The majority are women and children. Over 50,000 people had lost their lives across both countries, and tens of thousands were injured. Thousands of families have been forced to seek refuge in community buildings such as mosques, schools and facilities allocated as temporary shelters.
In Syria, the earthquakes have caused untold destruction in a country where 15.3 million people were already in need of humanitarian assistance. Essential community services, including schools and hospitals, have been severely impacted. Countless homes are affected, with some having been completely destroyed or damaged to a level that requires demolition. The magnitude of the earthquake has affected mainly the north, central, and the coastal parts of Syria, with severe human and material damages reported, mainly in Aleppo, Hama, and Lattakia Governorates, and impacting almost every person living in northwest Syria. The earthquake is an absolute hammer blow for Syria’s displaced populations, in a country already devastated by 12 years of crisis.
Immediate shelter assistance, winter items, and basic supplies are urgently needed so affected households can meet their basic needs, as well as protection services to support the most vulnerable people, particularly women, children, older people, people with disabilities, and other groups at risk. Mental health needs continue to increase, with mental health and psychosocial support being reported as the most needed service among earthquake-affected families.
Actively working in Syria since 1991, UNHCR and its more than 500 staff members are providing protection services and humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable people affected by this protracted emergency.
Within 24 hours, thanks to its presence on the ground, UNHCR started the provision of emergency supplies to people affected by the earthquake including thermal blankets, mattresses and other supplies and sending much needed supplies to the affected areas and shelter support to thousands of families staying at collective shelters and hosted by local communities, particularly the most vulnerable such as female-headed households, elderly people, and people with disabilities.
UNHCR has been responding to emergencies since 1950, protecting the rights and lives of people forced to flee ever since the organization was first created in the aftermath of the Second World War.
UNHCR responds to many types of emergencies, focusing on those in which people have been forced to flee, or where people already displaced have been further impacted. While we can do little to prevent the drivers of emergencies, we work to understand the likelihood of emergencies developing, as well as mitigate their impact by increasing our capacity and readiness to respond quickly and effectively.
UNHCR’s Policy on Emergency Preparedness and Response sets out mechanisms and actions to take before and soon after emergencies hit, such as risk analysis, planning, training, and resource pre-positioning.
When an emergency strikes, the situation continues to rapidly evolve by the minute, and affects many groups at the same time in areas where people are being displaced from and to. This means that people’s needs are rapidly changing too. There is no one-size-fits-all response, so UNHCR’s local teams on the ground conduct extensive assessments in affected communities to assess what kind of assistance is required when and where, whether it is a camp, urban or rural context.
This ‘needs-based approach’ helps determine the best direction of resources as well as vulnerabilities and risks – present and future.
Based on these assessments, UNHCR designs its response in a holistic and multi-faceted way from the start of a crisis. Depending on the humanitarian needs arising from an emergency, UNHCR’s assistance, protection and support might include:
• Relief supplies such as tents, blankets and water containers
• Setting up reception centres and safe spaces to protect people forced to flee
• Emergency financial assistance (via electronic transfer, cash cards or vouchers) for people to cover their own basic needs
• Emotional first aid and psychosocial support
• Registering people forced to flee within their country or across borders to ensure they can receive assistance and access their rights
• Identifying and referring vulnerable people to appropriate resources and services like children on their own or women at risk of sexual violence
Since the onset of the emergency, UNHCR has been providing protection services, core relief items and shelter support to thousands of families, particularly the most vulnerable such as female-headed households, elderly people and people with disabilities. In Syria, UNHCR is leading the Protection and Shelter &Non Food Items (NFI) Sectors and working in close coordination with other sectors to effectively assist families affected by the earthquakes. We are coordinating the response with UN agencies and other humanitarian actors to deliver assistance and support to those in need.
Prioritizing forcibly displaced people and host communities, UNHCR will:
1) Support Syria through the provision of life-saving humanitarian assistance for all those affected by the earthquake, with a specific focus on the most vulnerable.
2) Deliver protection services to people impacted by the earthquakes to meet immediate needs with consideration to longer-term needs.
3) Ensure effective coordination of the inter-agency response, especially in the protection and shelter/non-food items sectors.
• Core relief items and shelter
UNHCR is responding to the earthquake emergency with shelter and core relief items to affected families, reception centers, existing camps and collective centers.
Financial support is needed to procure and dispatch more tents, core relief items and hygiene materials from its stocks in Europe, the Middle East and Asia to provide urgently needed assistance. In north-west Syria aid will be delivered through cross-border convoys from Türkiye.
UNHCR staff in the field continue to be fully engaged in conducting needs assessments with other UN agencies for shelter support in Aleppo, Hama and Latakia/Tartous. UNHCR is supporting the structural assessments of buildings to help identify shelter needs and provide a better overview of the structural status of the buildings affected by the earthquakes.
In the first phase, Shelter/NFI Cluster members are concentrating on emergency lifesaving activities to reach the affected populations as rapid as possible with shelter and core relief items, including tents, blankets, clothes, kitchen sets, heating fuel and stoves. The second phase will shift from emergency to longer-term response; repairs and addressing the acute needs of the vulnerable groups will be prioritized, as will moving people from the emergency shelter into more sustainable and dignified shelter units and apartments part of the comprehensive dignified living conditions interventions and approach.
Protection concerns exacerbated by the earthquake include psychological distress, child labor, intra-family violence against women and children, limited availability of protection services and scarcity of specialized services for people with disabilities and older people, as well as documentation and housing, land and property issues.
UNHCR Syria operation will provide protection services to those affected, including awareness sessions on child protection and gender-based violence, prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse in collective shelters, referral of people in need of case management services, psychosocial support and psychological first aid. In collective shelters, recreational activities such as games and sports in collective shelters will be carried out to foster a safe space for the children to de-stress and maintain a positive daily routine.
UNHCR will ensure that protection considerations will be reflected across our emergency assistance, such as temporary shelter. UNHCR is developing and sharing guidance with staff working in community centres, where activities have been redirected to focus on the response to the earthquake. Specific guides on the earthquake response are ongoing for staff engaged in child protection, prevention and response to gender-based violence, protection from sexual exploitation and abuse, support to persons with disabilities and elderly people, and psychosocial first aid.
The Nando and Elsa Peretti Foundation has awarded a grant for this project to:
1) Provide relief items, emergency shelter, cash and in-kind assistance: Population targeted for assistance: 385,000 people in Syria.
2) Ensure protection and access to social protection services, psychosocial support and counselling: Population targeted for assistance: 385,000 people in Syria.