Is the Earthquake or the Aid Being Politicized, or is the Issue Fundamentally Political?
Nearly two weeks after the devastating earthquake that struck Syria and Turkey, seismographs are still recording aftershocks that usually occur after every major earthquake, the strength of which gradually decreases until it fades away. This is the opposite of what is happening on the humanitarian level, where the strength of the aftershocks increases on the humanitarian side in all the areas affected by the earthquake, especially those in Syria.
While it is not yet possible to accurately estimate the human and material damage, it is possible to get a sense of the horror and enormity of that damage, whether the number of victims, the number of buildings that collapsed, or the number of survivors who were displaced after everything they possessed turned into rubble.
All this means that the humanitarian needs in Syria, which were already constantly increasing during the years of the crisis, had multiplied several times overnight. Moreover, at least the recent needs that were directly the result of the earthquake, as in any country exposed to a humanitarian disaster of this magnitude, require a rapid local and international response.
At the international level, some countries began sending aid planes and convoys to the affected areas quickly, but at the UN level there was a noticeable and clear delay in the response.
As for the local level, at least on the community and general public level, the response was quick. A few hours after the earthquake, many Syrians rushed to help each other within their capabilities that had been exhausted by years of crisis. Nevertheless, they were generous in trying to help those affected, whether with money or donations or directly working on the ground. At the government level, the response was within the action level of the government as it had been for years, that is, it was very bad and very slow, and sometimes, especially with regard to the distribution of aid, and in many cases, people would have preferred that there not be a “governmental response”.
If we look at the local level in all the affected Syrian areas, the extent of the destruction and the extent of the poor response by the controlling forces, make comparisons worthless, at least from the Syrian humanitarian and national perspective. However, there is certainly value to making comparisons from the point of view of political exploitation by the Syrian extremist forces.
There were calls from the various areas of control, appealing and denouncing that the response to the disaster in their specific areas is not commensurate with the scale of the disaster and that there is politicization of humanitarian aid. Some international sides, including the UN, have also stated that humanitarian matters should not be politicized.
Many Syrian entities and organizations working on humanitarian issues enthusiastically called for separating the humanitarian file from the political. Undoubtedly, some of those who propose separating the humanitarian from the political are doing so from a positive sense and with good intentions. However, with regard to the current catastrophe resulting from the earthquake, and if we set aside any hypotheses that say this earthquake is manmade, we have at least three issues before us that deepen the earthquake catastrophe and add to its misery. These issues are indisputably manmade and are the product of an internal, regional, and international political conflict. These issues are:
1- When an earthquake hits a country that has been devastated economically, socially, and politically by a war for ten years, with what that brought in terms of damage to the foundations of buildings as a result of battles, bombardment, and explosions, as well as the dominance of corruption in various sectors, including real estate, not to mention people losing any savings and the fragility of their ability to endure even an ordinary winter illness, and so on and so forth; when an earthquake hits a country in this state, its effects will certainly be deeper and more tragic.
2- When an earthquake hits a country where corruption has prevailed for decades, and in which savage liberalism prevails, which only sees the country and its people as nothing but a tool for making profits to export abroad, all the foundations for dealing with major disasters will be fragile and weak, and corruption will play its role in sucking people’s blood even through aid, and favoritism will play a role in distributing aid, stealing it, and so on.
3- When an earthquake hits a country on which the US-led “civilized” West imposes savage sanctions and a criminal blockade, which contribute to depriving even ambulances of the fuel needed for operating them, the effects of the disaster will necessarily be more severe and violent.
These three factors are all manmade and political, and it is not possible to talk about truly dealing with the disaster without dealing with them. The most urgent issue today is the humanitarian response to the repercussions of the earthquake, but we must remember that the humanitarian side of the Syrian file existed before the earthquake and continues to exist thereafter, even more forcefully. Additionally, any talk previously about the need to deal with the humanitarian in complete isolation from the political did not lead to a solution, neither for this nor that.
The political side of the humanitarian file
If we try to recall the biggest humanitarian crises in the world today, or even throughout history, most of them, if not all, can be linked to political events or events of a political nature, sometimes through socioeconomic or military ramifications. In other words, we rarely find humanitarian crises that do not have political roots.
Generally, the humanitarian side of the Syrian crisis is no exception. A large number of Kassioun articles shed light on this matter, and explained the political link with all manifestations of the humanitarian crisis in Syria over the past ten years, including everything related to the file of the displaced and refugees and all the suffering that has become part of their daily lives, as well as problems relating to health, education, food security, etc.
Now there are those who want to distinguish the current humanitarian crisis resulting from the earthquake as not being manmade, but rather the result of a natural phenomenon. However, what we must look at specifically in this case is not that the earthquake resulted in a humanitarian crisis, as this is expected for any natural disaster, but what we must look at is the scale of the humanitarian crisis that the earthquake revealed. In other words, we must look at whether the scale of the humanitarian crisis resulting from the earthquake could have been smaller or less widespread in terms of human and material damage?
The answer is “YES”! For example, it can be said that the policies by which successive governments have worked in Syria, including the brutal liberal policies and rampant corruption that unleashed many warlords and plunderers wreaking havoc in the country today. All of this had a direct impact on the extent of the catastrophic effect of the earthquake. For example, there is the corruption that allowed construction companies and contractors to construct buildings without adhering to minimum building standards, which led to their collapse within minutes of the earthquake.
This is on the one hand, and on the other hand, the ability to economically respond to the repercussions of the earthquake, which in itself is a humanitarian crisis the Syrian people are enduring, is also closely linked to politics, whether at the international or local level.
What we mean here are the sanctions and the suffocating blockade imposed on Syria at the international level. At the local level, this relates to the policies that not only did not try to find solutions to revive the national economy within what is possible to mitigate the impact of the sanctions on the people, but rather adopted policies that are completely aimed at increasing the pressure on the people and further impoverishing them and the country. Kassioun has covered this topic extensively, including putting forth realistic proposals that can be done, all of which were ignored, and this neglect itself is a political decision.
Is response to the current catastrophe being “politicized”?
As mentioned hereinabove, some international and Syrian sides have denounced the “politicization” of the humanitarian file with regard to responding to the repercussions of the earthquake. What is strange – at least externally for those who have not yet seen that the extremists are all aligned on the same side, regardless of their terminology and slogans – is that Syrians who are doing the denouncing are from all Syrian sides, including all the authorities in control in the various Syrian areas.
If we look at the international sides appealing not to politicize the delivery of humanitarian aid to the various Syrian areas affected by the earthquake, we find that they are the same ones that have worked for more than a decade to determine who receives what, based on their whims and interests. They are also the same sides that have increasingly imposed sanctions on Syria and made them more suffocating on the Syrian people since at least 2011.
Kassioun had devoted many articles on the issue of the use of sanctions by these international sides – which are of course Western countries, led by the US – and dealing with the humanitarian file within specific political goals, specifically in a way that goes against establishing the proper conditions to reach a comprehensive political solution and the full implementation of UNSC Resolution 2254.
Therefore, it is logical to conclude that in their appeal not to “politicize” the humanitarian file today, they could not have suddenly decided to abandon their political goals in the Syrian file. Meaning, they are the ones making great efforts to politicize the humanitarian file in relation to the earthquake to ensure that the Syrian file stays where they can continue to work in the same direction, that is, towards not reaching a comprehensive political solution.
As for the Syrian sides, each of them has appealed, denounced, and made statements on the issue of politicizing the humanitarian file according to what suits its rhetoric and slogans, and serves its narrow interests. What is clearer about these appeals is that for the most part they feed into the efforts made by these sides – at least the extremists within these sides – over the past 10 years to ensure perpetuating and deepening the state of de facto partition, while serving the interests of the plundering forces and warlords, who are present in all parts of Syria in the various areas of control.
The political solution and humanitarian crises
Sometimes it is good to recall that Syrians’ humanitarian crisis has already been in existence, continues, and is deep, and the earthquake is merely one of its manifestations. Perhaps the difference is that the earthquake allows everyone to weep, lament, and mourn without clear and direct political connection. However, the reality is that Syrians are living daily crises of hunger, lack of electricity and heating, being swept out of their country, and oppression from the various authorities controlling the different Syrian areas.
These crises will persist, continue, and deepen as long as the current political situation continues as is. There is no way out of these crises except through a comprehensive political solution based on UNSC Resolution 2254. Even with regard to sanctions and their impact, those who say that sanctions are the entire and sole problem are lying. Western sanctions are undoubtedly criminal and unjust against the Syrian people, and we should continue to demand lifting them. However, lifting them alone will not solve the crisis, and perhaps it will not change much in the reality of the lives of the plundered, because the controlling authorities in all Syrian spheres of influence are capable of sucking any positives into the black hole of the major corruption, and not even a single drop of it will spill over to all the plundered. The political solution in accordance with UNSC Resolution 2254, and real, radical change is the only possible gate to addressing the accumulated humanitarian crises.