AFP , Sunday 12 Feb 2023
The UN denounced Sunday a failure to get desperately needed aid to war-torn regions of Syria, while warning that the death toll of nearly 30,000 from an earthquake that also devastated Turkey could at least double.
A UN convoy with supplies for northwest Syria arrived via Turkey, but the agency’s relief chief Martin Griffiths said much more was needed for millions whose homes were destroyed.
“We have so far failed the people in northwest Syria. They rightly feel abandoned. Looking for international help that hasn’t arrived,” Griffiths said on Twitter.
“My duty and our obligation is to correct this failure as fast as we can.”
Aid has been slow to arrive in Syria, where years of conflict have ravaged the healthcare system, and parts of the country remain under the control of rebels battling the government of President Bashar al-Assad, which is under Western sanctions.
The UN convoy of ten trucks crossed into northwest Syria via the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, according to an AFP correspondent, carrying shelter kits including plastic sheeting, ropes and screws and nails, as well as blankets, mattresses and carpets.
Tens of thousands of rescue workers continued to scour flattened neighbourhoods in freezing weather that has deepened the misery of millions now in desperate need of aid.
But security concerns prompted the suspension of some operations, and dozens of people have been arrested for looting or trying to defraud victims in the aftermath of the quake in Turkey, according to state media.
26 million people affected
Miraculous tales of survival still emerged, though experts caution that hopes for finding people alive in the devastation dim with each passing day.
A seven-month-old baby named Hamza was rescued in southern Hatay province more than 140 hours after the quake, while Esma Sultan, 13, was also saved in Gaziantep, state media reported.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis called for “concrete support” for the quake victims, urging people to “think what we can do to help them.”
The United Nations has warned that at least 870,000 people urgently need hot meals across Turkey and Syria. In Syria alone, up to 5.3 million people may have been made homeless.
Almost 26 million people have been affected by the earthquake, the World Health Organization (WHO) said as it appealed Saturday for $42.8 million to cope with immediate health needs after dozens of hospitals were damaged.
Turkey’s disaster agency said more than 32,000 people from Turkish organisations are working on search-and-rescue efforts, along with 8,294 international rescuers.
But, in many areas, rescue teams said they lacked sensors and other advanced search equipment, meaning they were often reduced to carefully digging through destroyed buildings with shovels or only their hands.
“If we had this kind of equipment, we would have saved hundreds of lives, if not more,” said Alaa Moubarak, head of civil defence in Jableh, northwest Syria.
Damascus said it had approved the delivery of humanitarian assistance to quake-hit areas outside its control in Idlib province and a convoy was expected to leave on Sunday, though the delivery was later postponed without explanation.
The transport ministry said 62 aid planes had landed in Syria this week with more on the way in coming days, in particular from Saudi Arabia.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged the Security Council to authorise the opening of new cross-border aid points between Turkey and Syria, with a meeting to discuss Syria possible in the coming days.
Greece’s Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias pledged further support as he met with his Turkish counterpart in quake-hit Antakya, putting aside the longstanding rivalry between the two NATO members.
“We do not need to wait for natural disasters to improve our relations,” Dendias said.
But after days of grief and anguish, anger in Turkey has been growing over the poor quality of buildings as well as the government’s response to the country’s worst disaster in nearly a century.
Officials say 12,141 buildings were either destroyed or seriously damaged in the earthquake.
Turkish police reportedly detained 12 people on Saturday, including contractors, over collapsed buildings in the southeastern provinces of Gaziantep and Sanliurfa.
Officials and medics said 24,617 people had died in Turkey and 3,574 in Syria. The confirmed total now stands at 28,191.