Children orphaned by Syria quake face back-to-back disasters

IDLIB, Syria: The Turkiye-Syria earthquake has orphaned many Syrian children against a backdrop of mass displacement, destroyed schools and limited access to water and sanitation.

Thirteen-year-old Maram is the only survivor in her immediate family after losing her parents to the natural disaster. 

Maram herself spent 15 minutes under the rubble of her toppled home. 

“I said to myself, ‘That’s it. There’s no way I can get out of here. I will die here.’ I started to pray, but then they came and rescued me,” she told Arab News.

She said her grandparents took her in, with her grandmother stepping in as primary caregiver. 

Maram’s case is sadly not unusual. In the same building, one floor above her, her friend and classmate also lost her parents. 

Local social centers, such as the Ataa Organization in Idlib governorate, are directing their focus on the psychosocial needs of orphaned children. 

Mohaned Al-Kasem, a supervisor at Ataa, told Arab News: “There are psychosocial support teams…so these kids can regain their normal state through drawing, (and) other activities.”

In the town of Atma, where his organization operates, Al-Kasem estimates there to be around 50 cases in which parents lost their children or vice versa. 

Local resident Najdat Al-Akhras’ house in western Idlib collapsed on his parents while they were inside. 

“After half an hour, we heard a voice. We went to where the voice was coming from, and we started removing the rubble. We rescued my 2-year-old sister, and then we pulled out my father, who was dead. We also pulled out my mom, who was dead too,” he said.

Al-Akhras says he knows many in the same predicament. Orphaned and displaced by the earthquake, he, his older brother and their sister now live in tents. 

Eva Hinds, chief of communication at UNICEF, is on the ground in Aleppo, one of the worst-hit areas. 

She described to Arab News the aftereffects of the earthquake on children. 

“Many have not been able to return to their homes, as they have been destroyed as a result of the earthquake,” she said, adding that sports centers, schools and places of worship are now operating as temporary collective shelters. 

However, Hinds says that because they are, by design, not fit for living purposes, the conditions pose great difficulties.

In schools, “that means staying on a cold floor with very thin mattresses. It also means in these school buildings there are not that many toilets, not many showers. Privacy is limited.” 

The earthquake has exacerbated the pre-existing problems for children — namely, the war, economic crisis, and recent cholera outbreak.

“This is a country that’s been grappling with conflict for more than 12 years now. Many of the children have been displaced not only once but several times.

“You can just imagine how this has added to their suffering,” she said.