Syria’s decadelong civil war has left the country fragmented, complicating the disaster responseto Monday’s earthquake.
Divisions within the country into areas controlled by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and areas under opposition control have often left relief efforts in the hands of local residents.
“The divisions in Syria have made the country weak in responding to crises. Even in Aleppo, it has mostly been civilians who have rescued people from under the rubble,” said Ammar Alselmo, a volunteer with the Syrian Civil Defense organization known as the White Helmets.
In areas of Syria hit hardest by Monday’s earthquake, near the border with Turkey, people displaced by war are living in poorly erected housing built to accommodate thousands of families temporarily.
Syria’s last rebel stronghold, Idlib, is desperately poor, already home to millions of displaced people—and was hit particularly hard on Monday. The northwestern province is dominated by a militant group, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, that has sought international recognition as a political actor in Syria’s future, but is labeled a terrorist organization by several international powers, including the U.S., Turkey and the United Nations Security Council.
The province’s political isolation makes its disaster response dependent on charities that have led civil-defense efforts during the war.
The White Helmets were leading rescue operations in opposition areas. In northwest Syria, particularly in and around Idlib and the countryside of Aleppo, over 133 buildings had fully collapsed, and 272 were partially destroyed, the group said.
Syrian state media said the government had dispatched emergency supplies to the most-affected provinces under government control: Aleppo, Lattakia, Hama and Tartous.
Even before the earthquakes, Syrians were struggling under the perhaps worst economic crisis since the civil war broke out more than a decade ago, marked by a collapsing currency, soaring prices and fuel shortages. Hospitals were running low on supplies. The U.N. said last month that 15 million of Syria’s 22 million people were in need of humanitarian aid.
International sanctions targeting areas under Mr. Assad’s control have worsened the economic crisis in Aleppo, where infrastructure has deteriorated under the economic restrictions.