US Sanctions Blocked UN Earthquake Rescue System in Syria

US companies don't provide the technology needed for the system to sanctioned countries

A life-saving United Nations mapping system to coordinate rescue efforts was blocked in Syria by US sanctions following a devastating earthquake that hit Syria and Turkey on February 6, Middle East Eye reported on Wednesday.

The system, known as the Insarag Coordination & Management System (ICMS), uses a cloud-based mapping platform to help rescuers log details of their efforts and share other information.

The mapping platform the ICMS uses is called ArcGIS, which is provided by a California-based company, the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI). According to ESRI’s website, its technology is prohibited in Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Russia, and Belarus due to US sanctions. It’s also blocked in Crimea and the Donetsk People’s Republic, and Luhansk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine.

Rescuers could use the ICMS in neighboring Turkey, but the service was blocked in Syria during the critical first days of rescue operations. The US issued a 180-day sanctions exemption for “all transactions related to earthquake relief efforts” on February 9, but it’s unclear from the MEE report if the ICMS ever became accessible in Syria.

US sanctions are also impeding Syrian efforts to rebuild earthquake-damaged cities as they are specifically designed to prevent Syria’s reconstruction after over 10 years of war.

While US sanctions technically have exemptions for humanitarian goods and services, the situation in Syria demonstrates how companies typically cut off all services with sanctioned countries because they don’t want to risk running afoul of the US measures. The MEE report said that the ICMS is inaccessible in Iran, which is a very earthquake-prone country.

Like in other nations, US sanctions on Iran have had a devastating impact on the country’s civilian population. UN experts said earlier this year that US and other Western sanctions are causing more deaths of Iranians with thalassemia, a congenital blood disorder that requires specialized medicine.

“Since the re-imposition of sanctions against Iran by the US in 2018, over-compliance with sanctions has escalated, affecting the import of life-saving iron-regulating medicines for Iranian thalassemia patients. This not only violates their right to health, but also results in increased complications and mortality rates,” the UN experts said.

Author: Dave DeCamp

Dave DeCamp is the news editor of, follow him on Twitter @decampdave.