How Syria's Civil War Slows Earthquake Relief | Crooked Media
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February 09, 2023
What A Day
How Syria's Civil War Slows Earthquake Relief

In This Episode

  • The death toll from the earthquakes that have devastated Turkey and Syria passed 21,000 people on Thursday, with many more injured and without shelter. Dr. Houssam al-Nahhas, a Middle East and North Africa researcher at Physicians for Human Rights, tells us about the difficulties of getting relief to people in both countries.
  • And in headlines: federal officials disclosed more information about the Chinese spy balloon that crossed the U.S. last week, an evacuation order was lifted near the scene of a train derailment in Ohio, and South Korea’s parliament impeached the country’s top safety official over last year’s fatal Halloween crowd crush.


Show Notes:



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Tre’vell Anderson: It’s Friday, February 10th. I’m Tre’vell Anderson.


Priyanka Aribindi: And I’m Priyanka Aribindi. And this is What A Day where we are finding ourselves conflicted over Chick-fil-A’s new plant-based cauliflower chicken sandwich. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Listen, I’m conflicted because y’all got to stop calling them chicken sandwiches if it’s not chicken. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, like, that’s very confusing. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Come on, now. Let’s be real. Okay. [music break] On today’s show, former Vice President Mike Pence has reportedly been subpoenaed by the special counsel investigating Donald Trump. Plus, this weekend marks 15 years since the end of the longest strike in Hollywood’s history. 


Priyanka Aribindi: But first, an update on the aftermath of the 7.8 and subsequent 7.5 magnitude earthquakes that have devastated parts of Turkey and Syria. As of Thursday evening, the death toll has passed 21,000 people with many more injured and without shelter. Those numbers, as you may have realized by now, are expected to continue to rise. 


Tre’vell Anderson: In Turkey, rescue teams and aid workers have been battling frigid temperatures, a lack of heating and power and other logistical hurdles as they work to help the survivors and unearth victims from the rubble of buildings and structures. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has admitted to, quote, “shortcomings” in his government’s response to the quakes, but he has insisted it’s now under control. Just yesterday, the Turkish parliament approved a three month state of emergency for ten of the affected provinces in response to the disaster. Across the border in Syria, where a civil war has raged for over a decade now the first U.N. aid convoy was able to cross into the northwest part of the country on Thursday, since the earthquake struck on Monday. The ongoing conflict, as well as sanctions from Western countries, have complicated efforts to deliver aid though Syria has also been in desperate need. The Syrian government has formally requested aid from the EU, but very little of that assistance has yet to arrive there. 


Priyanka Aribindi: To hear more about the situation on the ground in both countries and what needs to be done, I spoke earlier with Dr. Houssam al-Nahhas, a middle East and North Africa researcher at Physicians for Human Rights. He was a trauma physician in Syria at the onset of the civil war, and some of his relatives are living in Turkey now. Take a listen to our conversation: 


Dr. Houssam al-Nahhas: I have my parents and my wife’s parents all based in Turkey, in affected areas in Gaziantep and Malatya. Luckily, we were in touch with them from the early beginning. After hearing the news about the earthquake and we were in constant communication with them, the horrifying moments that they were describing were really heart wrenching for us, especially as we live thousands of miles away from them. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Dr. Houssam al-Nahhas: My in-laws, who live in Gaziantep endured the hard part of the earthquake and my mother in law and father in law were describing how they had to abandon their house without taking their belongings, without taking anything. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Dr. Houssam al-Nahhas: They left the door open, did not have time to put any clothing on them to go out. And the temperature was below zero Celsius, which is around 20 Fahrenheit. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Dr. Houssam al-Nahhas: And they just were uncertain where to go, what was going to happen next. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, I mean, you’ve worked as an emergency physician inside Syria during the initial phase of the civil war, which is still continuing. Can you tell us how this disaster has worsened the situation on the ground there? 


Dr. Houssam al-Nahhas: So when talking about Syria, we are talking about a country that has been torn by a war for almost 12 years where civilian infrastructure, health infrastructure, health care providers have been constantly and deliberately targeted, mainly by the Syrian government and Russian ally. My organization, Physicians for Human Rights, has documented more than 600 attacks on more than 400 medical facilities since the beginning of the Syrian crisis and the killing of more than 900 health care providers. To zoom in more on the northwest of Syria, which is currently the only region outside of the government control. Since 2017, there was around 140 attacks on health care facilities, mainly against facilities in that region. And that, of course, put more and more pressure on the health system. We are talking about a lack of resources, lack of human resources, lack of medications. The same system had to deal with the COVID 19 pandemic and most recently the cholera outbreak. So it’s a system that is overwhelmed with the needs of the local communities. And we are talking about around 4.6 million individuals living in this region. Around 3 million of them are internal displaced individuals from other places around Syria. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Wow. Okay. So a system already under stress now with far more. So the magnitude of what has happened here is so great. People sometimes just default to maybe feeling helpless and feeling like maybe there’s nothing that they can do. But what does need to be done? 


Dr. Houssam al-Nahhas: The needs are grave in both Turkey and Syria for Turkish people, for Syrian people who were affected by the earthquake. Unfortunately, northwest Syria have been blocked from the rest of the world. Basically, the entire region relies on one international border crossing, which is Bab al-Hawa, and it’s the other side of it in Turkey, Leys Antakya, which is one of the mostly affected and devastated areas. So since the earthquake, no humanitarian aids were able to access the region, which means that local organizations, humanitarian workers, community based organizations were the only responders to this disaster alone. And as I mentioned, we are talking about massive population struggling systems. And now on top of this, we have this disaster during the winter that further exacerbated all [?] abilities that these populations are witnessing. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So are you seeing disparities with how the international community has responded to this crisis between Turkey and Syria, like between the two countries? 


Dr. Houssam al-Nahhas: So there is a, a long list of fully vetted organizations that are delivering aid directly inside Syria. Unfortunately, we know that it’s still a little bit challenging for non-Syrians to get into the country for different reasons, but there are people who need care for their chronic illnesses. There is a demand for services beyond this disaster. I think one important thing to flag and highlight is a very brief conversation that I had with a colleague in Syria who is a midwife, and I asked her question on my side, which is how do you think the international community is recognizing your sacrifices and your efforts in saving people? And she replied to me, crying, saying, well, I’m not going to answer this question. It has been already 48 hours since the earthquake, and we didn’t see anyone. No humanitarian aid from outside the country. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. 


Dr. Houssam al-Nahhas: The U.N. have been silent using excuses about the border crossing not being open, the roads not being safe. But this is not true. The border crossing was open the entire time. But the only thing that we were getting inside Syria and inside northwest Syria was the bodies of people who died in Turkey. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. 


Dr. Houssam al-Nahhas: But nothing else. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Wow. 


Dr. Houssam al-Nahhas: So she literally said, we are abandoned. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Dr. Houssam al-Nahhas: And no one cares about our lives. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. And I mean, at least in my experience, what I’ve been seeing on my own social media feeds, the same does not seem to be true for the Turkish side. I see a lot of people posting and resources and whatnot. So thank you for highlighting that disparity. That’s important for us to know because it’s not like they’re not affected. They’re very affected. 


Dr. Houssam al-Nahhas: Yeah, I would say they are the worst affected population. I have my family members in Turkey, my wife’s family members in Turkey. I don’t feel that they have the same needs as the people who lost everything they have in Northwest. They have been already living in camps and living in slums and now their entire neighborhoods– 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. 


Dr. Houssam al-Nahhas: –are no longer there and they lost everything. People in Turkey have their relatives. They are massively affected, I deeply feel sorry for the losses and what they are experiencing. But again, we need to focus on those in grave need just to give everyone the equal chance for surviving. 


Priyanka Aribindi: That was my conversation with Dr. Houssam al-Nahhas with the nonprofit group Physicians for Human Rights. We will, of course, be following the relief and recovery efforts as they unfold, and we’ll have links in our show notes to ways that you can help. That is the latest for now. [music break] Let’s get to some headlines. 


[sung] Headlines. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Federal officials yesterday declassified information about the Chinese spy balloon that was shot down last weekend. According to high resolution photos released by the Pentagon, the 200 foot balloon had antennas capable of, quote, “signals intelligence collection operations”, which means it could have picked up on radio transmissions and radar. In other words, it was definitely not a weather balloon, which is what the Chinese government has claimed and what I kind of idiotically thought over the weekend [laughter] so I don’t know why I was thinking that. I was like, everyone needs to chill out. I was wrong. I don’t think I verbalized that to any of you, but I’m just big enough to admit that I was wrong. Officials also said that they have evidence that China has used similar balloons to spy on over 40 countries across five continents. More information is expected in the coming days as the FBI examines more of the balloon’s wreckage which was recovered off the coast of South Carolina. 


Tre’vell Anderson: You know, we appreciate self accountability here, Priyanka. Thank you for doing that for us. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Thank you. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Thank you for modeling that behavior for us. 


Priyanka Aribindi: We gotta own up to our mistakes. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yes, absolutely. 


Priyanka Aribindi: You’re welcome. [laughter]


Tre’vell Anderson: An update on the Ohio train collision earlier this week that led to the controlled burning of toxic chemicals. After residents of East Palestine and some on the border of Pennsylvania were asked to evacuate Monday, officials said Wednesday it’s now safe for residents to return. This follows the dramatic derailment of 50 train cars last Friday night just outside the small Ohio town. Five of those cars were carrying vinyl chloride, which is extremely toxic and flammable. While monitors near the burn site showed some toxins still lingering in the air. The EPA said air quality has since returned to normal levels. Testing on surrounding rivers, streams and drinking water wells, including the nearby Ohio River, will continue. 


Priyanka Aribindi: South Korea’s parliament voted on Wednesday to impeach the country’s top safety official over the fatal Halloween crowd crash that killed over 150 people. Lawmaker’s said that Interior and Safety Minister Lee Sang-min must be held responsible for the tragedy and that his agency’s failure to respond to the disaster led to the high number of fatalities. This comes weeks after prosecutors announced that they would seek criminal charges against officials, including members of law enforcement, for failing to use crowd safety measures that could have saved lives that night. Lee’s impeachment immediately removes him from any official duties. South Korea’s constitutional court has until the summer to decide whether Lee should be removed or reinstated. 


Tre’vell Anderson: This Sunday marks the 15 year anniversary of the end of the 2007-2008 WGA writers strike, when 12,000 screenwriters picketed for fair pay for their work as it was distributed via the Internet, cell phones, iPods, yes iPods. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Wild. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And other then new forms of digital media. Listen, what a time okay, blast from ze past okay. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Truly. 


Tre’vell Anderson: After a 100 day work stoppage and over $2 billion dollars in lost revenue for the Los Angeles economy on February 12th, 2008 members of the Writers Guild of America ended the strike. Crucially, negotiating later that month for a percentage of digital revenue, we can thank the strike for a few other things, too. With scripted television, a no go. NBC had the idea to launch Celebrity Apprentice with Donald Trump so we can blame them for all of our issues thus far. Okay.


Priyanka Aribindi: Oh my God. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And the lack of an on set writer is purportedly how the movie Twilight ended up with the unforgettable line, you better hold on tight, spider monkey. 


Priyanka Aribindi: What? 


Tre’vell Anderson: What we mean to say is this, Writers, they’re important. The anniversary comes as the entertainment industry braces for May 1st, which is when the guild’s current contract with major studios will expire. And as so-called new media and streaming have further grown to dominate the entertainment industry. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Former Vice President Mike Pence has reportedly received a subpoena from the special counsel looking into some of the major accusations against Donald Trump. According to ABC News, Pence was subpoenaed by Jack Smith, who is leading the investigation into Trump’s role in the January 6th insurrection and the discovery of classified documents at his Florida estate. Sources have told both ABC and The New York Times that the subpoena relates to January 6th, though it is not clear if Pence will comply with the order or if he will invoke executive privilege. I don’t know. They wanted to hang the guy on January 6th. I feel like he might want to comply in this case. 


Tre’vell Anderson: He better. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I mean, if you don’t at that point, what are you doing?


Tre’vell Anderson: After all this time? Okay, honey. He better turn on them quickly. Okay? Say everything you got to say. Mr. Pence, this is your chance. You were subpoenaed. Come on now. And for your weekly installment of hard hitting gay news, RuPaul’s Drag Race is bringing 90 minute episodes back, back, back again, starting on March tenth. A quick fill in for the uncultured because you should be watching, but whatever. Past seasons of the hit competition reality show consisted of 90 minute episodes full of the buffoonery, the rigory, and the straight up tomfoolery we all know and love. Before the current season, the 15th season. They’ve been cut short to just an hour. Longtime drag race fans have criticized the choice because it leaves less time for the frivolity that brought us iconic lines like, Go back to Party City where you belong. [laugh] And girl look how orange you look girl. [laugh] Thankfully, it seems like MTV has listened to Drag Race’s loyal fans, i.e. me, and restored a natural order to the prime time slot. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Okay, I gotta admit I am not a drag race loyal fan, but only because I feel a little intimidated by how many seasons there are. If I want to start, where do I begin? 


Tre’vell Anderson: Just jump right on in, just tune in on Friday night, okay? And we’ll get you together real quick. It’ll be fine. 


Priyanka Aribindi: All right. User friendly. I can just start from season 15. I’m into it. And those are the headlines. We’ll be back after some ads to speculate on what’s to come in the new era of Super Bowl halftime shows. [music break]. 




Tre’vell Anderson: It’s Friday, WAD squad. And today we’re doing a segment called WAD Remembers, where we bid a fond farewell to something that’s not a person but has still enriched our lives over the years and is still about to be dead. This Sunday, we officially exit the era of the Pepsi patronage of the Super Bowl halftime show, which for the last ten years acted as sponsor to what some say is the only part of the NFL championship game worth watching. I am the some people there. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Me too. [laugh]


Tre’vell Anderson: During the Pepsi era, we saw the Weekend get trapped in a maze. Left shark give us the least and Beyonce conjure Kelly and Michelle from underground. So we’d like to say a few words. Priyanka. Take it away. [sentimental piano music starts playing]


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. Listen, some of that shit I will say, weirder than other things, [laughter] but you got to take it in context here. The Pepsi era came after the Janet Jackson year and the like several years of old men. Like Prince doesn’t count in there but several years of, like, boring ass shows that sucked. So I will say Pepsi. We got a lot of hits in there. Last year, pretty high up there. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I don’t know which one was my favorite, though? Do you have any favorites? 


Tre’vell Anderson: My favorite has to be Lady Gaga. 


Priyanka Aribindi: We love. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Jumping off of the top of the stadium and soaring down onto her staged set. That was an iconic moment. Birthed– 


Priyanka Aribindi: It really was. 


Tre’vell Anderson: –so many memes. 


Priyanka Aribindi: So many. 


Tre’vell Anderson: I’m going to miss that era of the Super Bowl halftime show. But, you know, rest in peace. We will never forget you. [piano music ends]


Priyanka Aribindi: Never. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Alas, when it comes to multimillion dollar corporate sponsorship of a live television event, when one door closes, another door opens. Rihanna is headlining the first halftime show of the Apple Music era, her first live performance in seven years. And at a media preview yesterday, she described Sunday’s setlist as, quote, “a celebration of my catalog in the best way we could have put it together. Priyanka, I have to ask, which hits do you think are must includes? What are we trying to jam to on Sunday? 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, there’s a lot this is a strong start to the Apple music era. I don’t know if they– 


Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. 


Priyanka Aribindi: –had anything to do with like booking her or they just slap their name on it but strong start, you know, I’m going to need to hear a few. I’m going to need to hear Disturbia, obviously. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Period. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Bum bum be-dum like– 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yes. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Duh needs to be there. You know, I do like Work. I mean, I don’t need Drake. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Work work work work work work. 


Priyanka Aribindi: We could just do the Rihanna part. It’s fine. Yes, going to need that. And also, like, I don’t know how popular this is among the like regular Rihanna listeners, but Talk that Talk. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Oh! 


Priyanka Aribindi: I feel like is an underrated Rihanna jam. I love that song. And I mean, if Jay-Z comes out– 


Tre’vell Anderson: That’s cute. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I’m into it and then bring Beyonce and then do the whole, it’ll be great. 


Tre’vell Anderson: That’s cute. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I don’t know. I have big ideas. 


Tre’vell Anderson: I love that. You mentioned Jay-Z. He is a frequent collaborator of a one Rihanna. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And I’m going to be looking for the OG collaboration, Umbrella ella ella ay ay ay. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Oh duh. Duh.


Tre’vell Anderson: Right. Come on. Classic. But also, I feel like she doesn’t perform this song often, but I want her to go back to her beginnings. Okay. Which was Pon de replay. Okay. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Oh, yes. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Come on. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Oh, my God. 


Tre’vell Anderson: It was such a moment. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. 


Tre’vell Anderson: But she’s probably gonna give us, like, more current things. 


Priyanka Aribindi: She has to. 


Tre’vell Anderson: You know, I feel like we’re going to get a bitch better have my money. Because. Yes, obviously. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Duh. 


Tre’vell Anderson: So I could be down with that, too. She’s got so many great collaborations, though. I’m looking forward to see who pops up. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Totally. I feel like there’s very little chance. I mean, I don’t even want to speak this into existence, but I feel like it’s going to be hard to be disappointed with this one. Like there’s so much– 


Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. 


Priyanka Aribindi: –to work with and it’ll be exciting just she doesn’t do this. She hasn’t done this in so long. Like, I don’t know, the world is excited to see her and that is a great way to kick off this era for Apple. Love it. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. Why not? That was WAD Remembers. While Pepsi no longer sponsors the halftime show. It will always be the soda that isn’t Coke. 


Priyanka Aribindi: [laugh] Truly the nicest thing we can say. [music break]. 




Tre’vell Anderson: That’s all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review. Manifest a Rihanna album announcement. Oh yes. And tell your friends to listen. 


Priyanka Aribindi: And if you’re into reading and not just season 15 RuPaul contestants like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Priyanka Aribindi. 


Tre’vell Anderson: I’m Tre’vell Anderson. 


[spoken together] And who drinks Pepsi? 


Tre’vell Anderson: Not me. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I don’t know. They don’t sponsor this show, so not us. But we’re available. 


Tre’vell Anderson: I mean, I do drink it when I go to Taco Bell because you can’t drink anything else. But otherwise, it’s Coca Cola, honey. 


Priyanka Aribindi: We don’t have a beverage partner, but we’re open to it. 


Tre’vell Anderson: But we could. 


Priyanka Aribindi: We could. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. [laugh] [music break]


Priyanka Aribindi: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jocey Coffman and our executive producer is Lita Martinez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.