KAHRAMANMARAS, Turkey: The UN denounced Sunday a failure to get desperately needed aid to war-torn regions of Syria, while warning that the death toll of over 33,000 from an earthquake that also devastated Turkey could 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. Supplies have 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. Bab al-Hawa is the only point for international aid to reach people in rebel-held areas of Syria after nearly 12 years of civil war, after other crossings were closed under pressure from China and Russia.
Assad on Sunday thanked the United Arab Emirates for providing “huge relief and humanitarian aid” with pledges of tens of millions of dollars in aid as well. But security concerns prompted the suspension of some rescue 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. A Zionist emergency relief organization said Sunday it had suspended its earthquake rescue operation in Turkey and returned home because of a “significant” security threat to its staff.
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 Sunday in southern Hatay province more than 140 hours after the quake, while Esma Sultan, 13, was also saved in Gaziantep, state media reported. 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 organizations 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 defense in Jableh, northwest Syria.
Syria’s 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 authorize the opening of new cross-border aid points between Turkey and Syria, with a meeting to discuss Syria possible in the coming days. 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 29,605 people had died in Turkey and 3,574 in Syria from last Monday’s 7.8-magnitude quake, bringing the confirmed total to 33,179. – AFP