Double disaster: Sanctions during natural crisis
Even if humanitarian aid is to become widely accessible to deal with the catastrophe at hand, what are the future prospects of the towns that have been infrastructurally devastated after years of war and now an earthquake?
On the dawn of February 6, a massive earthquake, followed by multiple aftershocks, hit southern Turkey and northern Syria. The earthquake caused heavy destruction in both regions and led to an atrocious loss of life.
The earthquake unevenly affected the two countries, as the Turkish government was better equipped to deal with an emergency and was supplied with aid and assistance from the international community.
In contrast, the Syrian Arab Republic is largely incapable of providing emergency services to areas under its control due to a number of reasons, including the effects of the global war on Syria and the unilateral sanctions implemented by NATO countries on the Syrian people.
Although American sanctions on Syria were eased on the morning of February 10 to allow for more humanitarian aid, and most importantly bank transfers to reach Syria, the Syrian people spent five grueling nights attempting to cope with the effects of a massive earthquake.
Continuously, individuals and Western states have successfully lobbied to isolate Syria internationally, which left countries around the world hesitant to provide aid to the Syrian people when the earthquake struck. Only a handful of states have provided Syria with assistance so far, including Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, UAE, Lebanon, Tunisia, Russia, and others.
For five nights, lives were fated to end under the rubble instead of being rescued. The sanctions not only prevented and obstructed assistance but also left a country incapable of coping with humanitarian crises, let alone daily life.
These sanctions have tremendous effects on life in Syria: basic commodities are absent, inflation is at record rates, the health sector is undersupplied, and damaged infrastructure is left unmaintained.
This has been aggravated by the natural disaster. The Syrian state and local NGOs are ill-equipped in the face of the largest humanitarian crisis to hit the region in recent history.
Additionally, even if humanitarian aid is to become widely accessible to deal with the catastrophe at hand, what are the future prospects of the towns that have been infrastructurally devastated after years of war and now an earthquake?
Even with the updated regulations, the Syrian government as a whole, alongside related parties, is still completely sanctioned by the US treasury (Exception 542.305(a) of the SySR). In other words, public institutions cannot be dealt with in the gracious time period allocated by the Department of Treasury. Therefore, infrastructural rebuilds and relief efforts remain difficult and subject to inflated prices. The sanctions that have already had a substantial effect on Syrian lives must be completely lifted in wake of this disaster to allow any chance of decent life in Syria.
Understanding US sanctions on Syria
The country has been under war since 2011, leading to a three-way unofficial partition of Syrian territory solidified by local powers sustained through conflicting imperialist interests. As the Syrian government retook control over regions and re-established its military presence, the US sought to punish and hinder the Syrian government through unilateral economic sanctions.
Consequently, the US isolated the Syrian government from international markets, which manifested in the aggravated suffering of the Syrian people. The anchor to this isolation tactic is the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act which was allegedly passed by the US congress to protect Syrian civilians from the Syrian state.
Theoretically, the US sanctions target the Syrian government and its monetary institutions and personnel. Practically, the US is punishing the Syrian people and halting the rebuilding process of heavily damaged Syrian society and economy. The act threatens to sanction individuals and states that trade or provide assistance to Syria. Dealing with government institutions became off-limits.
In other words, utilizing international airports and government ports, supplying public hospitals, performing maintenance on government machinery, etc... are all prohibited. The US capitalists acting through their state’s machinery and institutions have the ability to isolate any actor from the international financial system, which, in turn, isolates the said actors from international markets that are essential for the survival of any corporation in a highly globalized international system. Logically, no state-owned or private enterprise would open trade with Syria.
Additionally, the elimination or hindrance of capital movement for competitors in the international markets, especially when sustained for a prolonged period of time, allows the US to gain greater market control in certain sectors. For example, after the US sanctioned Iran, it was able to gain a larger share in pistachio sales, a market previously dominated by Iranian produce, due to the difficulty of accessing global financial markets for Iranians.
States that have historically been punished by the US, such as Russia and Iran, have provided Syria with essential goods in times of need. Nonetheless, Syria has experienced a constant shortage of energy, medical supplies, and wheat, which has indiscriminately punished the Syrian people.
The effects of the sanctions are not just limited to short-term problems related to the availability of commodities. The US sanctions mean that the Syrian emergency and health sectors are left unprepared to deal with natural disasters. It means that Syrian infrastructure is more susceptible to destruction as the sanctions prevent construction and engineering work for the Syrian state.
Sanctions mean that millions of people will continue to live under harsh conditions due to the unavailability of essential public services and major construction efforts.
Do sanctions affect humanitarian aid?
Simply, the answer is yes. Whether the bylaws of the act prevent humanitarian aid to Syria or not, the sanctions and diplomatic mobilization have successfully isolated the Syrian people from the international community. What culminated was 5 dark nights in which emergency services would have been the most productive, but they were left unprovided. This became evident when countries around the world were hesitant or even unwilling to send aid to Syria, exercising double standards when dealing with a humanitarian crisis.
In an area ravaged by war, rebuilding and maintenance of infrastructure are key for the survival of the Syrian population, and the effects of the West’s restrictions have been made blatantly visible by the earthquake. State and NGO (Red Crescent) vehicles are out of service due to the lack of maintenance, parts, and fuel. Hospitals lack the necessary medical equipment and basic tools to provide health services to survivors.
Some bet on non-state actors to provide assistance and try to undermine the effects of the sanctions on the humanitarian crisis in Syria. However, the extent of the damage caused by this devastating disaster cannot be managed by a decentralized collection of NGOs. Aid and the rebuilding process cannot be practically implemented outside large state supervision and apparatuses.
This was morbidly experienced in Lebanon as NGOs failed to accomplish their funders' goals through a scandalous rebuilding process after the August 4 explosion. A nationwide centralized plan needs to be formulated and implemented with international funding to save the lives of the Syrian people. With the sanctions already affecting public health, drainage systems, and food security. As reported by Ms. Alena Douhan, the Human Rights Expert of the UN, one can only imagine the effects of the sanctions in the long term in earthquake-struck Syria.
Lift the sanctions
More so, what is to happen to Syria after the time limit on August 8 is reached? The Syrian society will be faced with yet another disaster that it has been previously familiar with: complete alienation from the global economy and its tumultuous consequences.
Now more than ever, the sanctions must be completely lifted. The Syrian people have suffered enough at the hands of the gluttonous and insatiable western powers. Their agendas for the Middle East as a whole have left millions living in poverty and hundreds of thousands dead.
Sanctions have historically been an ineffective method for political change. However, they have been successful at inflicting suffering and pain upon the masses who refuse to submit to western domination.
It is time to defy the sanctions. It is time to rebuild Syria. It is time to end the suffering of the Syrian people.