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20th March 2023

The global response to the Turkey-Syria Earthquake: What needs to change?

The UN’s slow response in delivering aid to earthquake-ravaged Turkey and Syria reflects global structural imbalances and inadequacies in global relief strategy.
The global response to the Turkey-Syria Earthquake: What needs to change?
Photo: EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid @ Flickr

The numerous problems that have occurred with the UN, EU and, US aid strategies for Turkey and Syria unfortunately do not surprise me. This is yet another example of global structural imbalances reproducing themselves in global institutions and aid relief programmes, where there is a clear global hierarchy of priorities even when thousands of civilian lives are at risk.

The recent devastating earthquakes in Southern Turkey and Northern Syria shook the world and, so far, have caused around 50,000 deaths, as well as, vast destruction to towns and cities. Many are blaming global powers such as the UN, EU and, US for slow aid responses, particularly in northern Syria where the Guardian recently reported that people feel ‘“forgotten’ by the world.”

Aid trucks headed to other regions, such as regime-held Damascus and Aleppo, but were unable to enter contested areas in the North. To me, this is an example of the ineffectiveness of global institutions such as the UN, which have historically prioritised larger global powers in their decision-making processes. The result of this asymmetrical global hierarchy is that smaller states such as Syria and Turkey are both left to suffer the consequences.

The “hierarchy” that I am talking about refers to the power structure established under colonialism. Predominantly, Western powers benefited from dominance over countries in the so-called “Global South”. These hierarchies are upheld today by global institutions such as the UN and World Bank which continue to favour the larger powers at the top of this hierarchy, leaving countries such as Syria, in this case, behind.

There were problems with forming a UN resolution quickly enough to allow for border openings between Syria and Turkey so that aid could pass to the rebel-controlled region of Idlib. The slow process of forming this resolution was due to a veto from Russia and China, who argued that entering the region without permission from President Assad would undermine the sovereignty of the Syrian Government. Thus, the UN had to seek permission from the controversial Syrian President to open these borders and only last week were granted permission to open two more border crossings.

Syrians living in rebel-held areas are, quite reasonably, left infuriated that the fate of their lives has been given to the hands of the oppressive regime that they have been actively trying to escape from for the past 12 years. As a result of this slow process of distributing aid, the conditions in Syria are dire, with many struggling during these winter months from the lack of resources. More than 1500 people have died in rebel-held regions before aid was able to reach them.

This is not the first time that the UN has failed in a response to an emergency crisis. Notably, the Rwandan Genocide in 1994 is a well-known example of the UN’s failure to respond and intervene promptly due to the reluctance of the US, France and, Belgium to enter as it was not in their national interests. As a result, the UN withheld information from the CIA that massacres had begun in Rwanda as early as 1993, and failed to begin any peacekeeping operations. This example is indicative of the global structural hierarchy where formerly colonised countries are left behind in global institutions that favour Western-centric decision-making.

These examples spotlight the ongoing issue around global structural imbalances and how these are reproduced in times of aid strategy through global institutions such as the UN. In the case of Syria, it has interfered with relief programs for an emergency disaster where ideological and political differences have hindered the efficiency of forming resolutions. China and Russia’s sway over the UN Security Council has led to aid routes to Syria slowing. The US and EU have recently been also criticised, as reported by the BBC, for only sending aid to the White Helmet regions of Syria, which Syria’s Government claims is a terrorist group.

Politics and ideology should not have authority when it comes to aid and human security strategies. However, these highly politicised institutions allow for the reproduction of global hierarchy even in times of emergency.

Clearly, the UN has much to answer for over the way they failed many in Northern Syria who had to wait far too long for the arrival of aid. Politics and ideological differences should not interfere with the efficiency of aid relief, as we have seen, the impact of this cost many lives in the Northern Syrian rebel-held regions.

Communities in Turkey and Syria continue to battle the impacts of this earthquake. Some of the things that students can do in Manchester to contribute towards relief programmes and strategies include donating at the regular bake sales outside the SU run by UoM Turkish and North Cypriot society. All proceeds are given to their Turkiye Earthquake relief campaign. They advertise the dates and times of these bake sales on their Instagram page.

Students can also donate to the funding page that has been set up by the University of Manchester here.

UK-MED Turkey-Syria Appeal is a medical aid charity based at the University of Manchester and is another great way to donate and help out in relief programmes for the earthquake.

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