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Business News/ Opinion / Views/  Syria’s double whammy offers a grim comparison

Syria’s double whammy offers a grim comparison

Was this week’s earthquake worse than the country’s civil war? If we keep aside the scale and instancy of suffering, it is man-made inflictions of horror that should appal us more

Photo: APPremium
Photo: AP

This week’s seismic shock caused by a 100km-plus rupture between the Anatolian and Arabian plates drew global attention to Turkey, but the misery of people in the Syrian Arab Republic must not get crowded out by news feeds. While the tragic earthquake’s death toll—in five digits and counting—is higher on the Turkish side of the border, it is the plight of Syria, both quake battered and war ravaged, that should stir us more. The cruelties of nature can shatter lives and overwhelm us with grief on a scale we can hardly fathom, but what of man-made inflictions that differ only in their horror being sporadic?

Consider this comparison reportedly offered by Mohammad Zitoun, a surgeon attending to patients at a Syrian hospital in the area. “This is a huge calamity," he told Reuters, “I lived through shelling and survived massacres. This is totally different, terrifying and horrific. The first massive wave of patients surpassed the ability of any medical team. Cases arriving for treatment from shelling and aerial bombing would come one after the other, in small waves, but the earthquake has seen 500 victims brought in each day, requiring dozens of operations. Many of the injured die within an hour or two as a result of trauma shock, heart failure or bleeding, especially since the weather is cold and they would have been under the rubble for 11 or 12 hours." Now that multiples of that time-span have elapsed, cries for help from concrete traps of collapsed buildings have all but fallen silent under a pall of gloom. Relief aid has been rushed in by various countries, including India, which dispatched two teams of its National Disaster Response Force, mobilized an army medical unit, and has been thanked by both Turkish and Syrian authorities. If Turkey, a Nato ally of the West, was short of foreign help, Syria seemed starved of it. The first UN convoy crossed its Bab al-Hawa border from Turkey only on Thursday, three days after the quake, with the delay attributed to access logistics.

Apart from its instant toll, though, was this quake the worse tragedy? Aid for Syrian victims was caught in a storm of dust raised over a decade-plus of civil war, slowed by lack of clarity over whether the needy could only be reached via Damascus, whose Bashar al-Assad regime is in cahoots with Tehran and Moscow as part of an autocracy bloc. While Damascus sought to assign some blame for its weak domestic rescue effort to the crippling Western sanctions it is under, the irony was why these were imposed in the first place: to restrict the regime’s ability to harm its own people. Syrian strife has been a complex jigsaw of hostilities. What began as an uprising against Assad’s autocratic rule turned into a sectarian battle, one that acquired the contours of a proxy war between the region’s Shia (pro-Assad) and Sunni (anti) powers, even as Al Qaeda-splinter ISIS sought to carve out territory. With armed militia of various stripes engaged in fighting, ordinary folks suffered grievously. Bullets and mortar attacks escalated to all-out bombardment as heavy military hardware entered the fray. In 2015, Russia intervened on Assad’s behalf to mount air strikes at rebel zones, only for Israel and the US to jump in later and slam slightly better-aimed missiles into pro-Assad targets. Too many Syrians have had their lives snuffed out in the “collateral damage" of civilian spaces reduced to rubble by animosity. Indeed, too many people, globally, have had to suffer hostility. What we must snuff out, instead, is animus as a cause of death.

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Updated: 09 Feb 2023, 11:06 PM IST
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