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A humanitarian crisis in Syria

 February 10, 2023 at 12:36 PM PST

S1: Rescue efforts continue in Syria after a devastating earthquake.

S2: Time is of the essence , as you can imagine. They are still hearing some cries from under the rubble. They pulled out hundreds of people.

S1: I'm Jade Hindman. This is KPBS midday edition. How high energy rates are impacting reptiles.

S3: When you have live animals , you can't turn down the heat and everything else and just go away. Now , our bill is 6000 to $7000 a month with the new rates.

S1: And we'll tell you what's happening on the art scene in your weekend preview. That's ahead on Midday Edition. The latest numbers from the aftermath of Monday's earthquake in Syria and Turkey are staggering. More than 20,000 people lost their lives. The search and rescue work is ongoing. The area in northwest Syria affected by the earthquake was already experiencing a humanitarian crisis , a consequence of the country's decade long civil war. Joining me to talk about this is Will L.Z.. He is a senior fellow with the Middle Eastern Institute Syria program. Will , welcome to Midday Edition.

S2: Thank you for having me.

S1: You've been closely monitoring the aftermath of the earthquake in northwest Syria over the last week.

S2: And what we're seeing right now is an absolute catastrophic humanitarian situation , as you mentioned. The area has already suffered a lot from the Syrian conflict. It has been bombed repeatedly by the government forces of Bashar al Assad and the Russian air force. Many of the residents in the area have already been displaced from other parts of the country. So the infrastructure of this area was already very weak. The people themselves are already traumatized. We're hearing that the casualties , which are approaching 4000 people , are likely to only rise because there's been very limited access by international aid organizations , especially added sanctions.

S1: And the U.S. and EU have ongoing sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad , meaning the U.S. won't send aid through the government.

S2: The United States has always been the largest contributor of humanitarian assistance to the tune of $16 billion through the United Nations , which primarily works only in government controlled areas. So despite these sanctions , which are very targeted and specific , they do not apply. They have never applied to humanitarian assistance. So as you're seeing right now , a lot of the U.S. aid , Western aid , and obviously the rest of the world's assistance is actually flying into Damascus and in many cases distributed under the control or oversight of the Syrian regime.


S2: One of them is because of this assistance is going through the government of Bashar al-Assad , who has been at war with those who have rebelled against him and specifically those in the Northwest. He simply does not allow that assistance to get there. In addition , Russia , his main ally , has used its position at the Security Council to block the delivery of humanitarian assistance from the north , from Turkey , and limited to only one border crossing. And that has obviously created a backlog and has denied the ability to reach everyone as effectively as possible. And there's obviously also the logistical problem right now because of southern Turkey , which has been the epicenter of this terrible earthquake itself , was providing support and was a home base for many of the aid organizations providing support to the northwest. So there's the logistical natural disaster ones , but there are unfortunately , some very political manmade ones , primarily because of Russia and the government of Assad.

S1: With those things put together.

S2: You have to this day , people still being dug out by the Syrian civil defense , which is known as the White Helmets. These are first responders that have been trained , if you can imagine , to dig out people from the aftermath of bombings by the government forces and Russian air force. And now they've been using those same skills to dig out people. And what they're telling us is , you know , time is of the essence , as you can imagine. They're still hearing some cries from under the rubble. They've pulled out hundreds of people. And so really , the surge of heavy equipment and direct access and support to those heroic volunteers is what's needed. But with temperatures often being below zero in that part of the world , and during this time of the year , the window is closing. So it's a it's a very , very difficult situation right now.


S2: Therefore , only independent non-government organizations and I believe USAID , the U.S. Agency for Development and other countries have been trying to get some assistance. So , yes , what's needed are tents , food , fuel and even just medical supplies and medical assistance. Only the people of that region are helping themselves right now with very limited support from the outside. We've heard that an Egyptian team , perhaps an Algerian team and a Spanish team may have arrived there , but no substantial assistance from the United Nations is yet to enter this area.


S2: Second , there are some very credible organizations on the ground , the Syrian American Medical Society , also the White Helmets , the first responders that I mentioned. Med Global is another organization , Syria Relief and Development. And for the full list of organizations. People can go to the Syrian American Council dot org website where they have listed about 20 organizations that have actual presence in northwest Syria or can get assistance to those who need it.

S1: While our thoughts are certainly with everyone impacted by this. I've been speaking with Y El Al Ziad , a senior fellow at the Middle Eastern Institute. He's also the CEO of Engage , a nonprofit that educates and engages Muslim-American voters. Y El , thank you so much for talking with us today.

S2: Thank you very much.

S1: High energy rates are having one surprising impact for reptiles. That's right. Cold blooded animals that require heating lamps are jacking up the heating bill for a non-profit that helps rescue the reptiles. KPBS North County reporter Tanya Thorne has the story.

S4: Our first animal can be.

S2: A ball python.

S5: The oohs and ahhs of kids fill the Escondido echo Vivarium once again. KPBS visited the Reptile Museum back in 2021 , when COVID had cut off all in-person visits. It also suspended all of their in-person educational field trips and replaced it with virtual ones. But seeing the kids faces light up once again is what Susan Nowicki , the founder of the Eco Vivarium says keeps her going.

S3: With these animals they have that cool factor and so the kids get really excited about learning and if the teachers let them run with that , we can teach every single subject in school with these animals. No.

S5: No. Wiki says the pandemic lockdown was especially tough on her reptile sanctuary.

S3: When you have live animals , you can't turn down the heat and everything else and just go away. You have to keep coming in every day and taking care of the animals and feeding them and cleaning them and socializing them.

S5: Nowak says her donations dropped by 80% and they were denied for grants she thought they'd get. At the same time , more animals were being brought to the sanctuary.

S3: Because of what we work with. There is a bias against these animals , and that does come into play sometimes. So we ended up not seeing the grants that we thought we would from some of those sources.

S5: But they were able to get a loan that no Weeki used to pay her staff and feed her animals. But it didn't leave much room for larger expenses.

S3: During that time , the utilities couldn't shut off for nonpayment and we let Adrian in. We can't pay the bill. We're doing everything we can to conserve , but we can't pay the bill.

S5: An expense that is vital to keeping most reptiles alive. Nweke says her bill at that time was between 2 to $3000 a month.

S3: Now our bill is 6000 to $7000 a month with the new rates , and we have that bank balance that came to at the beginning of the year.

S5: The bank balance , $36,000. Last month , SGA sent the eco vivarium a notice to pay the balance or risk disconnection. Nowak feared this would be the last straw , but because she kept talking with us , Jeannie , the company gave her a five year payment plan.

S3: So it's under $1,000 a month that we have to pay. But our electric bill is way up here. So now we're looking at over $7,000 a month that we have to pay , which is double what we were asked.

S5: Jeannie says it's working continuously with customers and small businesses who are struggling to pay their past due bills and is committed to finding solutions. But power isn't the only problem , Nowak says other expenses are also on the rise.

S3: Our food costs , some of the things have gone up 400% , and it's not like we can say , Oh , we just won't buy that because it's essential for the animals survival. And so we try to find cost cutting measures where we can , but there's only so much you can do.

S5: In an effort to save on electricity. They're rotating heating lamps around the enclosures. But she says too many changes can sometimes backfire and end up costing more in vet bills. The eco vivarium has set up a go fund me to help with the outstanding balances and possibly get them into a better location. Right now they are operating out of an old medical office building and using every inch.

S3: We would like every animal to have the maximum amount of space we can give because many of them have been through horrific life stories and they deserve that for the rest of their life.

S5: No Weeki thinks they're keeping their promise of saving the animals and is now excited to get back to the educational promise the nonprofit set out to keep with the community.

S3: Our goal is not only to save these amazing creatures , but also to educate the public about them.

S5: Tanya Thorne , KPBS News.

S1: You're listening to KPBS Midday edition. I'm Jade Hindman. For our weekend preview , we have a play about burning new classical music. Some Black History Month inspired art making and more. Joining me with all the details is KPBS arts producer and editor Julia Dixon Evans. Julia , welcome.

S2: Hi , Jade. Thanks for having me.

S1: So Moxie Theater is opening a production of Birds of North America tonight. Tell us about that.

S2: Yeah , this is written by Anna Liang Munch , who is one of the writers for the Apple TV show Severance. And this play is about a father and a daughter who are birders. It's about climate change , really about the impacts on bird populations. But it also follows this father and daughter over the course of a few decades. They're very different people , but they have this common interest in birding. And I talked to Moxie Theater's Jennifer Eve Thorne about this and about how we watch the climate impact through the lens of their relationship. There's this moment in the play where Jon says he's.

S1: Worried that the birds.

S2: Are going to miss the signals and that they're going to potentially not know it's time to migrate. That idea of missing signals comes in and out of the play , both through how Jon and Caitlin miss each other's signals in their attempts to to reach out to each other , but then also in this environmental way. And it will be on stage through March 5th at Moxie with shows every Thursday through Sunday night.

S1: Sounds delightful. Next , the La Hoya Symphony and Chorus will perform two shows this weekend with the return of music director emeritus Steven Schick for the evening. What do you know about that music they'll perform ? Yeah.

S2: One of the pieces is by a contemporary Armenian-American composer , actually a UCSC alarm. It's Mary Kumar. Jan. And the piece is called Walking with Ghosts. It's kind of about her experience as a first generation American and what you carry with you from your ancestors and the places they're from. It also has this incredible bass clarinet part , along with a full orchestra. And it just shows off the range of that instrument , the bass clarinet. And here it is. You can hear it playing in the high register. Concerts are Saturday at 730 and Sunday at two , and they're both at Mandeville Auditorium at UCSD. Fantastic.

S1: Fantastic. And the Museum of Contemporary Art , San Diego and La Hoya is hosting their monthly Free Press play Day this Sunday with a focus on Black History Month. What do they have going on for families ? Right.

S2: So the first part of the day , they have that set up with programs for kids and families. There is a special tour that's geared for kids. There is an art making activity that's inspired by the work of black American artist Mildred Howard and the jars and the household objects that she would assemble in her sculptures. And kids can arrange some flowers in a vase in the style of her works. There's also a dance performance from Disco , Riot and Storytime with librarians and museum. Admission is free the entire day , though , for anyone with or without kids. So you can go and visit the Mildred Howard , work yourself. And it's open from 10 to 4 on Sunday. But the programming for kids is from 10 to 1.

S1: That sounds like a lot of fun. Now some more visual art. Many of the galleries inside Bread and Salt have new exhibits opening this weekend , and there's also a concert.

S2: So first is Sophie Ramos , who is a Los Angeles based artist , and her work is in the main gallery. Her exhibition is called Life Raft , but she does gather found objects and she cuts them with brightly colored latex paint. It's almost like a rainbow. She's created a giant life raft out of these objects , furniture , trash , all sorts. And it kind of speculates that the earth as we know it is underwater and we are living on top of our old homes in these floating rafts. Another installation piece is at the Athenaeum Art Center and that San Diego artist Armando dilatory , and his work is called On the Blue Line. It's about the blue line trolley and all that's kind of wrapped up in his relationship with that journey from the border in San Ysidro to points north in the county. So they're strangers and their stories , families , the natural world , the environment that it drives through. Here's Armando.

S4: The trolley could be a metaphor for many things. It lends itself to poetic interpretations using these , like , structural concepts for storytelling.

S2: He's currently working and displaying works in progress. And there's also a single sculpture by Dutch artist Yan Van Munster , and that will be on view at Quinte one. All of this happens from 5 to 8:00 on Saturday , and then at 8:00 Project Blank will have a $10 concert in the rec room and that's experimental. And new music kind of focuses on the combination of image and sound manipulation.

S1: And something else we can't wait to hear about our story , the black history musical experience that's coming to town.

S2: It's a historical musical with with Black History in the United States folded into the lyrics , centering the stuff that's not taught in schools. The Soundtrack's on Spotify. And it's really great. Music has this huge range of hip hop and rap styles , and this one we're listening to now is called.

UU: Like I'll Be.

S4: I was born with this right to protest things that I don't like.

S1: I was born with it. You can find details on these and more arts events or sign up for Julia's weekly arts newsletter at KPBS Mortgage Arts. I've been speaking with KPBS arts producer and editor Julia Dixon Evans. Julia , thanks.

S2: Thank you , Jade. Have a good weekend.

S1: You too.

The earthquake that hit the Middle East Monday is creating a humanitarian crisis in northwest Syria, an area already struggling from a decade-long civil war. Then, cold blooded animals that require heating lamps are jacking up the heating bill for a local nonprofit that helps rescue the reptiles. Finally, in our weekend arts preview, we have a play about birding, new classical music, some Black History Month-inspired artmaking and more.