Western sanctions aggravate post-quake suffering

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Turkiye and Syria in early February has claimed more than 50,000 lives and left many more injured while causing huge loss of property. All this will seriously affect the economic and geopolitical structure of not only the two countries but also the whole of Middle East.

Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011, Turkiye has adopted a hostile policy toward the Syrian government, which is in line with the Western powers and Sunni-majority Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia. As a result, Turkiye and Syria share a very tense relationship.

This is tragic, because local organizations lack the necessary funds and equipment for such large-scale relief and rescue operations, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis there

However, the Syrian government has gradually stabilized the situation. And Turkiye, on its part, has somewhat softened its stance against Syria.

After the quake, many countries provided relief materials for — and/or sent rescue and relief teams to — both Turkiye and Syria. In fact, many expect post-quake Turkiye-Syria relations to further improve and the two sides to cooperate on humanitarian aid and post-quake reconstruction.

The earthquake has also had serious impacts on the economies of both Turkiye and Syria. Turkiye is an emerging economy and a major economic power in the Middle East, with a well-developed textile industry and large exports of textiles and clothing, and the quake is likely to reduce both textile production and exports. It will also affect Turkiye's agricultural products, transportation, tourism, power generation, and oil and gas sectors to varying degrees.

Turkiye's financial sector, too, will be affected, as the country's currency, lira, has hit a historic low against the US dollar and the stock index has slumped. Before the quake, Turkiye's financial market was already battling high inflation, and struggling with geopolitical tensions. The quake has now added to market uncertainties, with Turkiye likely to face a series of problems including high reconstruction costs, rising current account deficit, and declining foreign investment, although reconstruction efforts can create new opportunities for some industries, especially the construction industry.

As for Syria, it has suffered from years of civil war. Different parts of the country are controlled by forces as different as the government, army, opposition forces, and the Kurdish forces, leading to large number of refugees both within and outside the country. Also, the country's infrastructure is severely damaged, and the basic necessities of life, such as fuel and other essential goods, are in short supply. In particular, there is massive shortage of housing, food, medicines, medical equipment and fuels.

In terms of the region's economy, Turkiye's Bosporus Strait is an important global shipping trade route, which could see disruptions due to the quake. This in turn could disrupt the international supply and value chains as transportation of Russian and Ukrainian grain through the Strait and supply of Russian natural gas to Europe could suffer. The quake will also affect international flights that fly via Turkiye's airports.

But the US seems to have withdrawn, strategically, from the Middle East and is even competing with Gulf countries in energy, prompting Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and its allies like Israel to gradually adopt a relatively independent foreign policy to safeguard their interests, strengthen relations with Russia, ease tensions with Iran and Syria, and not take sides in US-China disputes.

Ironically, the quake could help ease the hostilities among Middle East countries, and prompt them to cooperate in disaster relief, and resolve differences and conflicts. Israel and Greece, which have serious differences with Turkiye, have sent relief and rescue teams to the quake-hit areas of Turkiye. The European Union, too, has provided emergency funds for Syria, and the Syrian government has opened the roads to the opposition-held areas to enable the UN to bring aid to the people there. But Iran and the UAE are the main regional players that have come to the aid of Syria.

But despite the devastating quake and the loss of precious lives and property, the US and the EU refuse to lift the sanctions against Syria, which has prevented rescue and relief teams from reaching all the disaster-stricken areas. This is tragic, because local organizations lack the necessary funds and equipment for such large-scale relief and rescue operations, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis there.

And the fact that the EU and the US have said that aid to Syria should be channeled only through local NGOs has exposed the designs of the Western powers to politicize even the greatest of humanitarian crises.

The author is head of the Institute of Middle Eastern Studies, Northwest University.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.