On February 6, 2023, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked the border regions of Syria and Turkey, exacerbating the decade-long humanitarian crisis in war-torn Syria. Months later, the death toll from the quake and its aftershocks has surpassed 55,000 people and displaced millions more.
HALO has been operating in the region since 2016, working to clear explosive hazards and educate communities on their risks. When the earthquake struck, our teams in Northwest Syria swiftly mobilized to aid the stricken communities. The immediate crisis response began with rapidly assessing needs, as well as providing rubble removal, health assistance, and risk education, as thousands of more people have moved into Displacement Camps and aren't aware of the dangers of IEDs, landmines, and other dangerous explosives that may have been unearthed in the earthquake.
We have over 50 local Syrian staff who are also trained in paramedic assistance and support that have carried out crisis response. Soon after the initial quake, we deployed our excavator, which is usually used for mine clearance, to a neighborhood in Al-Atareb city for rubble removal. We cleared rubble from a sewing workshop and from a three-story building next door, looking for survivors and providing safe access.
In March, our teams began work in Salqin, Harim District of the Idlib Governorate. The primary task involved deploying our excavator at a debris gathering site, where rubble from collapsed buildings had been collected. This painstaking endeavor aimed to separate personal belongings from the debris, an effort coordinated with local authorities and the Public Security Agency.
Every piece of recovered property, from furniture to jewelry, is meticulously documented by the HALO team, then handed over to the Public Security Agency and local authority representatives. Photographs are taken and shared with local communities through dedicated WhatsApp groups. Utilizing the power of social media, these groups serve as virtual lost and found centers, where residents can identify and reclaim their belongings. Unclaimed items are safely stored by local authorities, waiting for their owners to come forward. This critical work goes beyond the physical; it is about reclaiming a sense of normalcy, a piece of the past, a memory of what was and what can be again.
The earthquake significantly aggravated vulnerabilities within communities that had been affected by a severe humanitarian crisis for over a decade. As the quake struck, some people managed to leave their homes before their eventual collapse. Others were not so lucky, getting trapped under rubble. Thousands more suffered injuries or death.
Our recovery efforts did not stop at the debris site. Parallel to rubble removal and debris clearance response, HALO's Victim Assistance program quickly swung into action. Our case management staff have been providing comprehensive support to earthquake casualties, conducting hundreds of community interventions across various age groups and locations. This assistance included psychosocial first aid, identification and assessment of specific needs, and other integrated case management to earthquake casualties and explosive ordnance/shelling victims as well.
Collaboration was integral to our efforts. HALO partnered with Hand in Hand for Aid and Development (HiH), a humanitarian organization with expertise in victim assistance interventions and the operation of rehabilitation centers. Our caseworkers complemented HiH's services, assisting with registration and referrals of earthquake casualties to specialized facilities, and providing much-needed logistical support to transport victims. Together, we bridge the gap between victims and the specialized services they need, offering not just treatment but hope and recovery.
As the crisis unfolded, HALO's risk education teams took on a supporting role in two shelter centers in the town of Kelly, assessing and monitoring the needs of internally displaced persons (IDPs), primarily from Harem, Salqin, and Jandairis. Many of these individuals have been repeatedly displaced by the war and the earthquake, their needs ranging from food and clothing to hygiene kits, and even baby supplies. Medical needs are addressed swiftly, with team members arranging for transfers to nearby medical centers.
In partnership with the Jude volunteering group and the Deniz Feneri Association, a Turkish organization, HALO delivered food baskets, milk, and diapers to the affected communities, while facilitating distribution of clothes and furniture for those who lost everything in the disaster.
Despite the colossal challenges, HALO Syria managed to resume normal operations in April, continuing explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) operations virtually uninterrupted amidst all the upheaval. As of now, while aftershocks, including a magnitude 5 shock felt in Hatay, Turkey on May 7, continue to rattle the region, HALO remains unwavering in its commitment to assist the local communities. The journey to full recovery is still underway, and your continued support is invaluable.
To those who have already supported our lifesaving work in Syria, thank you. Your contributions have saved lives and protected some of the world’s most vulnerable families. Together, we can help Syria rise from the rubble.