Idlib, northwestern Syria – For the past week, Ahmad al-Najjar has been waking up early to go out and buy a load of sandwiches to deliver to rescue workers in the parts of northwestern Syria that were hit by a series of catastrophic earthquakes.
Volunteers and Syrian Civil Defence rescuers have been desperately seeking for survivors in the rubble of flattened buildings since the initial magnitude 7.8 tremor shook southern Turkey and northwestern Syria pre-dawn on February 6, followed by hundreds of aftershocks and another powerful quake of magnitude 7.6.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
The earthquakes have killed tens of thousands of people across both countries, including more than 3,200 in rebel-held northwestern Syria, a region already decimated by 12 years of war and home to millions of internally displaced people in need of humanitarian assistance.
Seeing the huge number of rescuers and the long hours they were working, people in northwestern Syria began collecting as much money as they could to buy food and water for them.
Rescue volunteer Zakaria al-Yahya told Al Jazeera that the food and water were welcomed by the exhausted teams that worked day and night. He himself had only managed four hours of sleep a night so far.
He added that their work would have been made easier if they had received the appropriate machinery and equipment for digging through the rubble.
Aid into northwestern Syria has been slow to arrive as damage to roads on the Turkish side had delayed the movement of United Nations convoys. The vehicles began arriving on Thursday, but the needs are still acute in the area as people sleep in tents pitched in open fields or take shelter in whatever buildings they find that have not collapsed.
The Syrian Civil Defence, or White Helmets, a rescue group operating in rebel-held parts of Syria, has accused the international community of ignoring the needs of the northwestern region, stating that many more lives would have been saved if assistance had arrived faster.
“We have so far failed the people in northwest Syria,” UN aid chief Martin Griffiths acknowledged on Sunday. |They rightly feel abandoned. Looking for international help that hasn’t arrived.”
Help from near and far
Al-Najjar, who lives in one of the camps for internally displaced people in Kafr Daryan, north of Idlib, says one of his relatives has helped him out with money so he can buy food for the rescue teams that have been working in the affected areas.
“The day after the earthquake, I delivered 100 sandwiches – fried chicken and shawarma – and yoghurt, to rescue workers in the city of Harem, near the border with Turkey, which suffered a lot of destruction,” said the 25-year-old.
“When we got there, we saw that there were more than 1,000 rescuers. We distributed what food we had, and there were also families there who distributed bread and water, trying to help everyone.
“But the disaster in the Jandaris area, north of Aleppo, is terrible. We allocated 200 meals to help, but it needs at least 5,000 daily because of how bad it is in the area.”
Many expats began sending money transfers to their relatives in the region, and the funds were used to keep a steady supply of sandwiches and other light meals going to the rescuers in Harem and Jandaris.
Muhammad al-Akhras, a Syrian expatriate in Britain who works in the car trade, started collecting money from his friends to donate to the earthquake victims in northwestern Syria.
“As soon as I heard about the earthquake, a group of my friends and I began to search for what the affected people needed most, and we were able to send sums of money to secure fuel for the rescue machines being used to remove the rubble.”
He also started “working on another idea, which is to buy meals and send them to rescue workers and Civil Defence personnel through the people living there, because most of them have been working for days without food or drink.”
Al-Akhras and his friends are currently working on launching a campaign to help the town of al-Taloul, near the Salqin area, northwest of Idlib, which was flooded when a nearby dam cracked and the nearby Orontes River overflowed its banks.
According to a recent announcement by the Syrian opposition, the number of collapsed buildings in northwest Syria has reached 418, and more than 1,300 buildings have partially collapsed while thousands have suffered serious damage.