Six months since a deadly 7.8 earthquake hit Türkiye and Syria on 6th February, millions of women and children in northwest Syria now find themselves without a vital humanitarian lifeline and risk losing access to basic food supplies and life saving healthcare, warns the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

This week also marks one month since the UN Security Council failed to reauthorize UN cross-border aid through Bab al Hawa, the main artery for UN-led humanitarian assistance to reach vulnerable populations in the northwest. The UN provides 80% of food aid in northwest Syria, where an estimated 90% of the population are living in poverty and struggling to feed their families.  

As an IRC staff member in northwest Syria told us: ‘‘The people here are really shocked - how can the Security Council say it is protecting humanity and spreading peace in the world but fail to renew the crossing that helps keep millions here alive.”’

The opening of two additional crossing points, via a direct agreement between the UN and the Syrian Government, has offered welcome routes for supplies to support the earthquake response. Since the earthquake nearly 3,750 trucks loaded with aid provided by UN agencies have crossed into northwest Syria from Turkiye. With roughly 20% coming via the two additional crossings and 80%, some 3,000 trucks, via the UNSC-mandated Bab al Hawa crossing. Since the UNSC failed to renew the cross-border resolution last month no UN trucks have been able to travel through this critical crossing. The additional two crossings are also set to expire on August 13th should the UN not negotiate a further extension. 

For 12 years, humanitarian needs in the northwest have continued to climb and worsen in severity. There are 4.1 million people in northwest Syria in need of sustained humanitarian assistance. The majority of whom are women and children. Over half of those in need have been receiving aid through the cross-border mechanism every month. The devastation caused by the earthquakes 6 months ago has overstretched these already vulnerable communities and the humanitarian response. 

Ahmad Hamed, Northwest Syria Field Manager, says: “Right now it is essential that Syrians in the northwest are able to get the help they need. Not only are they still dealing with the impact of the earthquake and years of protracted conflict, but for the past few weeks the region has been experiencing extreme summer heat. This has had a direct impact on thousands who still don't have access to clean water and adequate shelter. 

The earthquake and ongoing conflict have caused long-term distress and trauma, especially increasing the need for mental health and psychosocial support. Two in three children surveyed by the IRC after the earthquake showed signs of psychological distress, such as increased crying, sadness and nightmares. Stories we have encountered are simply devastating. One boy we are supporting tragically lost his home and his mother when the earthquake struck. While an elderly woman told us how her life has been ruined by the disaster, explaining to our team that 6 months on she still struggles to eat, drink or sleep and finds herself always weeping because her son, his wife and their children were all killed. As a global community, we have a humanitarian imperative to provide assistance to these people, and we cannot leave Syrians in the northwest behind. Maintaining and increasing humanitarian access at this time is the only way forward.”

Tanya Evans, the IRC’s Country Director in Syria, comments: “These communities were already living with the physical and emotional scars of more than twelve years of conflict. On top of this the earthquake destroyed already fragile infrastructure, caused further displacement, killing and injuring over 13,000 people. Now 6 months on, instead of looking to rebuild their lives, these already devastated communities are left worrying about where their next meal will come from in the absence of the UN Security Council resolution. 

The situation risks deteriorating further next week when the agreement for the use of two additional crossing points by the UN, which were opened after the earthquake to provide additional assistance in the face of extraordinary needs, is set to expire. Today, these needs have not abated yet there is the very real possibility that come August 14th there will be no more cross-border access from Türkiye for the UN to northwest Syria. If this happens the consequences for millions of vulnerable Syrians will be disastrous.”

The IRC calls for urgent action by the UN and international community to secure long-term, sustainable, and safe humanitarian access free from obstruction, to northwest Syria, including through a Security Council resolution. There can be no justification for restricting or conditioning aid, particularly at a time when humanitarian needs are at an all-time high.