Lebanon to the Rescue? Lebanon’s Humanitarian Mission to Turkey and Syria is Saving Lives.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023
Opinion by Adnan Nasser

It is difficult to imagine Lebanon being in a position to help anyone as it struggles to carry itself out of its worst economic and political crisis. However, there is enough strength and conviction from the Lebanese to show solidarity with their neighbors Turkey and Syria. Both countries have suffered terrible losses in human life and property from one of the worst earthquakes in the region’s history.

On February 6th, the world woke up to watch scenes of crumbling buildings and thousands of people dying and injured in Turkey and Syria from a magnitude 7.5 earthquake. It struck central and southern Turkey, and western Syria. The Turkish city of Gaziantep was the most badly damaged. Its effects could be felt across the region, as far as Lebanon and Cyprus. For some Lebanese, it reminded them of the seconds before the August 2020 Beirut explosion that devastated half the city and killed hundreds. 

It is difficult to assess the precise number of people killed and injured. The latest report  is 40,000 and counting. Reuters quoted Turkish President Tayyib Erdogan saying he vows to rebuild as more rescue missions press on. 

The Turkish government is trying to do everything it can to house people who were forced onto the streets after seeing their homes destroyed. This is not an easy mission for either the Turkish or Syrian governments. 

Although fewer people have died in Syria, they have had to live with several different crises at a single time. 10 years of civil war destroyed most of the necessary infrastructure that would have been utilized in response to the earthquake. To make matters worse, Syria is still under heavy sanctions by the western countries,. According to a report from AP, the sanctions are making aid deliveries more challenging and restrictive. Still, global organizations like the United Nations, governments, and grassroots organizations are making all efforts to guarantee supplies reach the victims. 

Once the magnitude of the quake’s destruction could be seen, Lebanese Caretaker Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, asked caretaker Ministers Nasser Yassin and Ali Hamieh to contact their Syrian and Turkish counterparts to assess what kind of assistance their countries require.

Lebanon’s contingency of rescue workers in the form of the Civil Defense and soldiers from the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) were sent by Beirut to help in the aftershocks of the earthquake. 

On February 7th, a team of twenty members made up of the Lebanese Civil Defense traveled to Syria as part of a search and rescue mission. Once they crossed the border, they began immediately to provide emergency relief for Syrians badly affected and it proved to have positive outcomes. Footage of videos can be seen on Twitter showing the Civil Defense working alongside the Lebanese Red Cross saving the lives of a Syrian mother and her child after 5 days of being trapped under the rubble of destroyed buildings.The Lebanese army had ordered a dispatch of 20 soldiers from its Engineering Regiment to Syria to reinforce help in cooperation with teams working in the worst affected areas. 

Minister for Public Works and Transport Ali Hamieh said Lebanon will waive taxes and fees for any humanitarian aid arriving at its airports and ports.

Despite it being a cash-strapped country where its own citizens are also struggling to manage with daily inflation and shortages, Lebanon finds ways to meet its regional responsibilities. But it’s not only the government that is rushing to give a helping hand. Grassroots organizations are also moving rapidly to respond to the victim’s needs and coordinate with each other to ease their suffering in this humanitarian catastrophe. 

In the Latakia region of Syria, Salam li Ardi (Peace in our land), a coalition of different grassroots operations working together to assist all whose lives have been affected by this earthquake. They have delivered batches of goods in the form of medical supplies, blankets, and recruited volunteers to distribute the material in record time. 

Alya, Melissa, Michel, and Dorothea, coordinators for one of the groups, spoke about the nature and specifics of the mission in Syria. She described the organization as a community made of several grassroots operations. A human-centered initiative with no political affiliation whatsoever. 

“Our first group of people have arrived with the first batch of donations.” “We have a lot of donors and donations coming, hand in cash and online.” 

They opened a small kitchen to prepare meals for all in need and are assisting homes which are welcoming families in desperation. The situation has grown more critical as more people search for ways to rebuild their lives. One area of difficulty organizations find themselves in is security problems they face entering Syria. People are finding it hard to travel safely to help. Some are complaining that efforts to have life saving supplies delivered in a timely manner are being mitigated by a long tedious process of red tape from the Syrian government. If any more progress is to be made, the security issue for volunteers traveling to Syria must be immediately addressed. 

Still, one could call this a  “Lebanese initiative.” The speed in which Lebanon responded was impressive and a demonstration to show solidarity, regardless of its own internal problems. 

Nevertheless, the region is still in the early phase of recovery. It will take a long time before both countries manage to totally reverse the devastations unleashed on their populations. Thankfully, neither are working alone. Lebanon, like most of the international community, answered the call and support has not ceased to save as many lives from this natural disaster. 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon, a non-profit, nonpartisan leadership organization of Lebanese-Americans.