Reports | 29 03 2023Noureddine Ismail
The journalist and photographer, Aref Watad, did not expect that the camp residents would crowd out in search of a tent. He spent nearly 11 years working in the media, during which he covered the suffering and tragedies of the camp residents. That happened consequentially to a crack in the residential building in which he resides, as a result of the devastating earthquake that struck southern Turkey and northern Syria on the sixth of February.
One of the Syrian tragedy paradoxes, and after years of more than a million Syrians living in camps, displaced by the spread of military operations, during which they faced cold, heat and volatile weather factors, and after charitable donation campaigns that were launched during the past years to replace canvas tents with concrete housing complexes; the search and demand for canvas tents have increased, escaping the multi-storey buildings after the earthquake. Today, the residents of concrete houses are looking for tents whose walls and ceilings do not collapse over their heads.
People living in cracked buildings
The "Syria Response Coordinators" team documented 1,298 demolished houses by the earthquake, in addition to cracking of more than 11,176 houses in various regions of northwestern Syria, with other unreported cracked houses by their owners; more than a million people were affected.
Journalist Aref Watad lives in an apartment he bought a year and a half ago in the city of Dana, northern Idlib. He works as a photographer for "Rozana" and French media agency: "Agence France-Presse (AFP)", covering current events in Idlib and the northern countryside of Aleppo regions.
The residential building walls, he resides in, were exposed to deep cracks, and after engineers' inspection, residents were asked to evacuate the building in anticipation of its collapse after strong aftershocks.
Apartment building in which Aref Watad lives
"I could no longer move outside the area; it was a necessity to stay with my family as we stayed in my private car for several days. Simultaneously I had to document the damage caused by the earthquake and photograph it for the media agencies. I fell between two fires; it was difficult ," said Arif Wedge.
In his interview with "Rozana" he talked about his decision to get a tent: "I moved my family to my parents' house, which was not cracked, and I went to photograph the search for survivors throughout the city of Harim. On my way I felt a strong aftershock; I stopped to check on my family and my parents, but I couldn't communicate with them because of Internet unavailability; this forced me to return quickly, starting this moment I started considering a tent".
According to Watad, it is very difficult to work on an event you are part of, it needs a lot of effort to be balanced; "It is very difficult, as I am a father of two young girls; securing their safety is a priority for me, don't our children have the right to feel safe?", he adds painfully.
After many attempts to obtain a canvas tent, one of the volunteering teams gave him a tent, he moved the family into it to continue his journalistic work covering the consequences of the disaster.
Higher prices, yet elevated demand
Earlier, the price of a tent did not exceed 100 US dollars, but it witnessed a crazy rise after the earthquake, because of high demand from people and low supply by the United Nations, which was confined to only those affected by the recent earthquake.
Ahmed Abu Hamza, a humanitarian activist in one of the volunteer teams in the Jisr al-Shughur area, tells us that since the second day of the earthquake, they started buying tents. Yesterday they bought a ready-made tent for 275 dollars, measuring 6×4, while the price of a tailored tent reached between 140-150 dollars, depending on its quality and features.
Regarding the difference between the two tents, ready-made and tailored. Abu Hamza said: "There is a big difference, ready-made tent is better in terms of the quality of the shade, in addition to having a door and other features that make it more desirable by the people."
To verify this information, we in "Rozana" tried to contact one of the tent dealers to find out the prices, but we did not receive a response from him.
Displaced guests to displaced residents
With the increased demand for canvas tents, along with scarcity of supply in the northwestern regions of Syria; the prices of tents have increased dramatically, making the endeavor of obtaining them an unattainable dream for people with limited incomes and the unemployed, who have no income.
As a result of the highly frequent aftershocks, especially the one occurred on the evening of Monday, February 20th, reaching the intensity of more than 6.1 degrees on the Richter scale; the state of panic increased among the residents of the two-story houses, and they spread out in public squares and roads to spend their cold night in the open air.
By the morning on the day after that strong earthquake, Mustafa al-Abdullah, who lives on the fourth floor of a residential building in Idlib, without hesitation accompanied his wife and young daughter to his relatives' house who live in Kafr Lusin camp on the Syrian-Turkish border.
Mustafa continued to Rozana about the failure of all his attempts to get a tent: "The price of canvas tents has gone up insanely, and I wouldn't be able to buy them", he added: "Even if I buy it, I do not possess a piece of land to pitch the tent on, my relatives welcomed us in their small tent, until the strong aftershocks stop".
The situation was more difficult for Muhammad and his family, he needs two tents to shelter his family and his parents, he said: “I live on the first floor, while my parents lives in a basement that was previously bombed in Idlib, I can no longer bear to see the fear that my children live with every aftershock; my son Ahmed, who is 5 years old, suffers from nightmares that wakes him up screaming and crying”.
Muhammad found that the best temporary solution is to secure the family of relatives residing at Barisha camp, west of Sarmada, on the Syrian-Turkish border; until the intensity of these aftershocks subsides, as he understood from several reports about earthquakes and their aftershocks.
The effect of rumors on the people
Rumors played a key role in the state of panic experienced by northwestern Syriana, especially with the spread of fake accounts on social media, warning of a devastating earthquake on a specific day and hour, prompting people to flee outside the multi-storey buildings.
The majority of the population downloaded some applications that update with earthquakes' intensities, some of which give warnings in the first moments of the earthquake, measuring its intensity and location. Used by some non-specialists, hoping to increase the number of followers on their social media accounts, exploiting them through "Tik Tok" program, via the live broadcast feature; to issue early warnings, with an explanation that does not depend on scientific rules.
Yesterday, the National Seismological Center announced a decrease in the number of frequent aftershocks, describing it as a "moderate to weak seismic transitional phase" in the Iskenderun region.
Although the region is familiar with earthquakes before the recent one, they came under the spotlight; and the people followed them in all their details, location, intensity, and depth. Quakes became a new obsession that haunts the Syrians among the many concerns that have been besieging them for years.