An aerial view of collapsed buildings as search and rescue efforts continue in Idlib, Syria on February 13, 2023. MUHAMMED SAID/ANADOLU AGENCY VIA GETTY IMAGES

Article initially published on February 15, 2023 in Foreign Policy and written by Annie Sparrow.

Providing humanitarian aid is contingent on humanitarian access. The manipulation of access is a defining feature of the long-running Syrian conflict and itself a key driver of humanitarian need.

The lack of access to northern Syria has made clear that there is a dramatic difference in the scope and effectiveness of the international humanitarian response in Turkey compared with Syria. In Turkey, the earthquake generated a massive international response: thousands of humanitarian workers, dozens of planes and ships carrying supplies, financial and logistical capacity from dozens of countries.

By contrast, in rebel-held northwestern Syria, few international aid organizations or supplies exist. The lethal impact of the earthquake is compounded by the Syrian and Russian governments’ efforts to limit U.N. assistance across the border from Turkey, which has served as a lifeline for millions of Syrians dependent on U.N.-coordinated aid. That the Syrian government, under pressure, has temporarily consented to additional cross-border U.N. aid from Turkey, after all hope of saving people from collapsed buildings has been extinguished, doesn’t change the need for a new approach to such humanitarian emergencies.

Currently, this enclave is home to 4.5 million Syrians, nearly 25 percent of Syria’s population packed into just 4 percent of its land. Their massive humanitarian needs predated the earthquake. Years of Syrian and Russian bombardment had already damaged or destroyed 65 percent of the region’s infrastructure, leaving most people without safe water, sanitation, sewage, or electricity.

Before the earthquake, 4.1 million people were fully dependent on humanitarian aid, including 1.8 million displaced people living precariously in so-called sites of last resort. Post-earthquake, humanitarian needs have multiplied. Hope of finding survivors is gone. The urgent need now in northwestern Syria is for an immediate influx of humanitarian assistance.

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