Mustafa Aledo

Syria has been grappling with an ongoing conflict that has significantly impacted its public health infrastructure for over a decade. A country once known for its rich cultural heritage and historical significance has been left struggling with a frail health system, an undermined infrastructure, and a population where millions have been displaced. The echoes of the crisis mean that a vast majority have turned to humanitarian aid for sustenance. Healthcare, once a robust system, has become critically dependent on humanitarian organizations. And yet, even with this help, northwest Syria paints a grim picture— medical supplies are alarmingly low, and many health facilities, under a financial crunch, function at a reduced capacity or remain shuttered.

February 6th, 2023’s early hours added another chapter to this saga. At precisely 4:20 a.m., I was abruptly awakened by an intense tremor, a powerful earthquake. The duration felt unending, each second stretching longer than the one before. In that state of panic and fear, I found myself immobilized, unable to evacuate my family from our fifth-floor residence. By the time the terrifying tremors ceased, I hastily gathered my family, and like countless others, we ventured outside to protect ourselves. Preliminary data from the civil defence painted a harrowing scene: over 2,166 lives lost, 2,950 wounded, and pervasive infrastructure damage in northwest Syria [1].

In the earthquake’s aftermath, the loss of electricity and internet compounded the challenges. I knew my duties as an on-ground representative of Medglobal, a humanitarian organization. I physically reached out to key health institutions, such as the Idlib Health Directorate and local hospitals, to ascertain their immediate requirements. The need for diesel, essential medical supplies, and medicines was evident everywhere. Once confident of my family’s safety, I spearheaded channelling crucial supplies to the devastated health centres.

In the subsequent days, with survivors seeking refuge in temporary shelters, healthcare provision became paramount. Mobilizing resources, I established mobile clinics that catered to the survivors’ health, nutrition, and psychological needs. However, these measures, though critical, felt like only a tiny relief effort given the monumental tragedy we faced. Images of victims ensnared under debris, the distressing sounds of rescue operations, and the fluctuating emotions of hope and despair left an indelible mark on my psyche.

Reflecting upon this disaster, I discerned vital lessons for any future disaster response:

1. Safety First: Always ensure the safety of family and loved ones.

2. Resource Management: Regularly communicate with your affiliating organization and comprehend accessible resources.

3. Collaboration is Key: Foster partnerships with health institutions, including the WHO, Health Cluster, Health Directorate, and hospitals to streamline and magnify the response.

4. Swift and Adaptable Response: Time is of the essence, and responses must be agile, adapting to evolving ground realities.

5. Mental Health Matters: Recognizing and addressing one’s emotional and mental state is as crucial as any physical response.

The hurdles were innumerable, but the experience fortified my resolve with all its challenges and taught me invaluable lessons. I remain optimistic, hoping such disasters become rarities and our ability to respond becomes more effective and empathetic.

Reference

[1] Syria Civil Defence, “الانتهاء من عمليات البحث والإنقاذ …والانتقال لمرحلة البحث والانتشال.. وإحصائية مفصلة لـ 108 ساعات من العمل,” 2023. https://cutt.us/ApuEH