The earthquake in Turkey and Syria has left children “completely on edge” and fearing their “world is going to be turned upside down again” amid ongoing aftershocks, a spokesperson for UNICEF has said.
Nearly 52,000 people lost their lives in the disaster, which flattened many buildings and left others too dangerous to occupy.
Joe English, a communication specialist at UNICEF who visited Turkey and Syria, told the Sky News Daily podcast the scale of destruction “knocked me sideways” and he saw “buildings just completely flattened, pancaked, buildings ripped in half”.
But for many in Syria, the earthquake is just another catastrophe on top of the Syrian civil war.
Mr English said families in northwest Syria were already living in tents “because they have been displaced not once or twice, but multiple times by the conflict.”
He added: “We’re now approaching 12 years of conflict. There was one young boy I was speaking to earlier this week, Majid, and he was nine years old.
“His entire childhood has been spent set against this backdrop of airstrikes and displacement and once again being forced from his home once again, his mum having to explain to him why they can’t stay where they are. This is just the latest catastrophe.”
Mr English said it was “critical” for children to return to school as soon as possible, “because that gives them that hope for the future and that gives them that sense that there is something better coming down the road”.
This generation will rebuild the country
Mr English said Majid and his brother told him when they grow up they want to work as a doctor or an engineer.
“And I thought that’s such a specific dream for a child. But then you look around you and you think they want to be able to help the people that they see every day,” he said.
“They want to be doctors so that they can help heal people who are injured, whether it’s by the earthquake or by the conflict. They want to be engineers because they’ve seen their societies destroyed over and over again, whether it is by fighting in the conflict or by these horrific natural disasters.”
Another looming crisis
Mr English warned that earthquake survivors in Syria now face another looming crisis around access to clean water, with thousands of suspected cholera cases being reported in northwest Syria.
“It is a sad irony that you can speak to a child who has lived through 12 years of war or catastrophic earthquakes, tens of thousands of aftershocks, and the thing which could be the biggest risk to them right now is a glass of water,” Mr English said.
Hopefully the world will not move on again
He said it was important to ensure the crisis in Turkey and Syria does not leave people’s minds, by getting people to “continue to talk about this work, to donate to the organisations that are doing this incredible work, to put pressure on their politicians to continue supporting this work.
“Hopefully we will not be in a situation in a month from now, or a year from now, where the world has moved on again.”