Conflict and its far-reaching consequences, including economic downfall and loss of livelihoods continue to plague the suffering Syrian population. The earthquake in February has compounded the situation in the country where the Caritas Syria Programs Head says needs are overwhelming.
By Linda Bordoni
Over a decade of war, millions of displaced persons, a spiralling economic crisis and now a powerful earthquake have left Syrians in need of assistance and long-term development support.
Caritas’ emergency humanitarian response continues thanks to the combined work of several teams from local diocesan Caritas, as well as Caritas staff and volunteers from around the world including crisis-struck Lebanon.
But as the Head of Programs of Caritas Syria explains, funds are desperately needed to enable Caritas to continue to provide now, and in the coming months, food, medical supplies, shelter and other essential supplies.
These funds, Sarah Hazeem says, also serve to meet long-term needs and help families go back to a more stable life. They are needed to help Syria get back on its feet.
Listen to the interview with Sarah Hazeem, Head of Programs at Caritas Syria
Caritas Syria has been implementing activities to respond to the needs of the people in the country since the beginning of the Syrian crisis 12 years ago. And today, Sarah Hazeem says, following the earthquake, our teams are “on the field, directly responding to the needs of the affected communities in Aleppo, Lattakia, Tartous and Hama.”
Aleppo’s old town after the 6 February earthquake
“[They are], distributing ready-to-eat food baskets, hygiene kits, milk for children and drinking water in the collective shelters in the affected areas.”
Hazeem notes that the earthquake comes in the wake of the many emergencies posed by the war, including a huge number of displaced people, including internally displaced persons, who are in dire need of assistance, including projects for “early recovery and livelihood.”
“Caritas Syria is implementing activities in many sectors.”
And while the Catholic Church’s humanitarian arm is trying to provide for the lack of medicines, shelter, and education regardless of race and religion, Hazeem says that since the end of the conflict, another crisis is crippling the nation.
“It’s the bad economic situation in Syria caused by the war, caused by the sanctions on Syria, which cause the lack of all needs: Fuel, electricity, food,” she notes.
None of these is available, she adds, highlighting the fact that poverty has spiralled after the war.
“On top of all this, now we have the earthquake. So it’s worse than before.”
Caritas Syria distributes aid
Out of the international spotlight
Compounding the suffering is a sort of “donor fatigue” and the fact that international attention has turned elsewhere.
“After the war, we heard from many partners that after ten years of war, Syria is not ‘the baby’ anymore,” Hazeem continues, noting that the Covid-19 pandemic has affected assistance, as have the crises in Ukraine and Lebanon after the Beirut blast.
All those issues have had a negative impact on the assistance received by Syria, she says, and Caritas Syria is facing a lot of challenges.
“We are still receiving, but there is a shortage in funds deriving from all these crises in other regions,” she states, and she explains that other Caritas family members and their donors provide the organization’s main sources of funds.
Precious partners on the ground
Hazeem upholds the excellent partnership Caritas enjoys with other aid organizations and describes it as crucial for a series of reasons.
“It’s very important in order to avoid any duplication in assistance, in order to coordinate together and to know what each organization is doing and where,” she says.
Part of her work, she says, is “to coordinate with all other organisations working on the ground in Syria, attending coordination meetings to align our work with other organisations as much as we can.”
Poverty has spiralled in quake-struck Syria
Everything is needed
Asked what Caritas Syria’s greatest need is at the moment, Sarah was hesitant: “It’s not easy to say because the need is very huge.”
However, the recent emergency stemming from the earthquake, she says, has compounded the bad economic situation as so many people have lost their homes and their livelihoods.
“Many of them are in their shelters. So this is the first need.”
So, beyond food and water, Hazeem says Caritas is trying to give support in rent cash and is implementing projects for the rehabilitation of schools and the rebuilding of livelihoods.
Caritas Syria has projects for education
Sarah Hazeem asks if she can take advantage of this interview “to thank all our partners for their generous support during the past years, and especially now,” and also “to encourage them not to forget Syria, because now we have new crises and new needs.”