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Some fear that donor fatigue may impact the aid needed after Turkey-Syria earthquake


The United Nations is asking donor countries for a billion dollars to help Turkey in its recovery from last week's earthquakes. The U.N. is also asking for money to help neighboring Syria, which is already suffering from a decade of civil war. Help there is needed in both government-controlled areas and rebel-held areas with limited access. All this plus other global crises have amplified another issue. NPR's Aya Batrawy reports from Dubai, where aid workers are trying to prevent donor fatigue.

AYA BATRAWY, BYLINE: Men in suits and women in designer heels sip espressos and nibble on an array of bite-sized petit four desserts. It's the World Government Summit in Dubai, an annual gathering that draws political and business leaders and intellectuals. And it's where aid workers connect with those in charge of big budgets.

MARK RYAN: I flew out of here four days ago with 37 tons of medical and surgical equipment on a cargo flight into Aleppo. And I'm back here now through Damascus.

BATRAWY: Dr. Mark Ryan is executive director of the World Health Organization's emergencies program. He says the WHO's been supporting Syria with supplies like trauma and amputation equipment, IV fluids and surgical tools that medics need to treat people injured by the earthquakes. The needs of people in Syria were immense even before this calamity. A devastating civil war there has ravaged the country for over a decade.

RYAN: It's difficult after a week because people see the images, and people become sort of numb to these images. But the reality is that we have to deal with the aftermath of this crisis, which is going to be months and months of work. To help those who've been injured, people with amputations, people with psychological stress, ruined hospitals, collapsed schools - I mean, this is the hard part.

BATRAWY: Assistance from around the world is pouring in. Both countries will need huge support, but Turkey is better stocked. The WHO estimates that 25 million people across Syria have been impacted. Hundreds of thousands are now homeless.

RYAN: The outpouring of grief and the outpouring of emotion and the outpouring of support is fantastic in the beginning of an emergency. And we're really grateful for that. The problem now is sustaining that effort.

BATRAWY: The United Nations launched an appeal for nearly $400 million to provide life-saving relief for millions of Syrians. The U.N. says that covers a period of just three months. It comes as humanitarian organizations have been plagued for years by budget shortfalls and unmet appeals for Syria. The U.N. Children's Fund had an appeal annually for Syria of $328 million. Not even half of that was being met. Millions of people in rebel-held northwest Syria were dependent on U.N. aid before the earthquake.

CARLA MARDINI: So Syria has lost the attention of the world, as many other complex and underfunded crises, especially when all the attention went to the war in Ukraine and the humanitarian response there, which is totally legitimate. And there's so much people can do.

BATRAWY: That's Carla Mardini, also at the conference. She oversees UNICEF's private fundraising and partnerships. She says UNICEF is working to help reunite unaccompanied kids with relatives. It's providing hygiene kits, sanitation services and drinking water to avert diseases like cholera, which is already present in northwest Syria.

MARDINI: We know the needs are immense across the board, but it's essential for their support to reach us as quickly as possible so that we can bring the aid where it's needed most.

BATRAWY: The International Committee of the Red Cross' Vice President Gilles Carbonnier says he's hopeful.

GILLES CARBONNIER: What we have seen that is really outstanding is the generosity of people. We have seen this last year in response to those who lost everything because of the war in Ukraine. I think we see it again now.

BATRAWY: Aid workers say the support is critical now and will be long into the future. Aya Batrawy, NPR News, Dubai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Aya Batrawy
Aya Batraway is an NPR International Correspondent based in Dubai. She joined in 2022 from the Associated Press, where she was an editor and reporter for over 11 years.