The European office of the World Health Organization (WHO) has called for comprehensive help for the many earthquake victims in the Turkish-Syrian border area. WHO regional director Hans Kluge described the quake as the region’s worst natural disaster in a century. The need for help is huge and growing by the hour, he said at an online news conference on Tuesday.
Around 26 million people in Turkey and Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance. “Now is the time for the international community to show the same generosity that Turkey has shown to other nations over the years,” he said on Tuesday. The country is home to the largest refugee population in the world.
Despite dwindling hope, the search for survivors continued on the eighth day after the earthquake. According to media reports, four people were found alive under rubble in southeastern Turkey. In Kahramanmaras province, helpers rescued two brothers aged 17 and 21 on Tuesday morning, state news agency Anadolu Ajansi and broadcaster CNN Türk reported. They stayed, therefore, 198 hours under the rubble.
In Adiyaman province, an 18-year-old boy who was also buried for 198 hours was rescued. According to Anadolu Ajansi, in Hatay province, a 26-year-old woman was rescued alive from under the rubble after 201 hours, and a 35-year-old woman after 205 hours. The information could not be independently verified.
“We are witnessing the worst natural disaster in the WHO region of Europe in a century,” WHO Director Kluge said of the earthquake, which killed tens of thousands of people. The full extent and actual costs are still unclear. Addressing those affected, he emphasized: “Your suffering is immense, your pain is deep. The WHO is by your side in your time of need – and always – by your side.”
An estimated one million people have lost their homes in Turkey and around 80,000 are in hospitals, according to authorities. This puts a huge strain on the healthcare system – which has been severely damaged by the disaster.
Kluge called on all government and civil society stakeholders to work together to ensure the cross-border delivery of humanitarian aid between Turkey and Syria, as well as within Syria. WHO counts a total of more than 50 countries in its region of Europe. In addition to the EU, they also include several countries in the east, such as Turkey, and several countries in Central Asia.
According to diplomats, President Bashar al-Assad wants to open two more border crossings to Turkey to improve humanitarian aid in Syria. Bab Al-Salam and Al Ra’ee are expected to stay open for three months, UN emergency relief coordinator Martin Griffiths told the UN Security Council on Monday, according to several diplomats. Griffiths is currently in Syria and met with Assad on Monday.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed Assad’s decision: “Opening these border crossings – in addition to facilitating humanitarian access, speeding up visa approvals and facilitating travel between centers – will allow more aid to arrive more quickly. ”.
Andreas Knapp, Caritas General Secretary for Foreign Aid, traveled to the crisis area in Aleppo on Friday. “Aid in Syria has started, but it is still insufficient,” he said in an interview with the APA. “International solidarity” is now needed. “We cannot leave Syria alone,” Knapp appealed.
“The suffering of the people is indescribable,” reported Heinz Wegerer, humanitarian aid coordinator at Hilfswerk International, on Tuesday in Vienna about the situation in the crisis area. He did not return to Austria from Turkey until Monday. “The corpse smell is getting stronger,” said the rescuer.
Quick and uncomplicated help is now urgently needed. In the early days, the local population had to provide most of the humanitarian aid. “Let’s make sure people can keep helping and have staying power,” Wegerer stressed. Up to 50 aid agency workers must ensure this in Turkey. Wegerer also reported problems with emergency aid. The state civil protection authority AFAD “is obviously overwhelmed with coordination”.
The day after the earthquake, neighbors in need began asking for donations, and at the same time, organizations in both countries began to help. This focuses on the absolute essentials: emergency shelter, water, food, mattresses and blankets. All eight neighbors in relief organizations are working with local partner organizations in Syria and Turkey, according to a broadcast on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the UN children’s fund, UNICEF, has warned of the catastrophic situation of millions of children in urgent need of humanitarian aid. The total number of boys and girls affected is still unclear, but according to UNICEF, 4.6 million children live in the ten provinces of Turkey affected by the earthquake. More than 2.5 million children are affected in Syria.
“The children and families of Turkey and Syria are facing unimaginable hardship in the wake of these devastating earthquakes,” said Catherine Russell, UNICEF Executive Director on Tuesday. “We must do everything in our power to ensure that everyone who survived this disaster receives vital assistance, including clean water, sanitation, basic nutrition and medical care and psychosocial support for children. Not just now, but also in the long term.”
According to satellite data, severe earthquakes can also have long-term geological consequences. “There appears to have been significant subsidence in the coastal town of Iskenderun, causing flooding, while the earthquake has put many hills across the country at serious risk of landslides,” the European Space Agency said. Broadcaster NTV reported last week that buildings in the Turkish coastal city had to be evacuated because of flooded streets.
In the early morning of February 6, the first tremor of magnitude 7.7 shook the Turkish-Syrian border region, followed hours later by a second aftershock of magnitude 7.6. Since then, there have been more than 2,400 aftershocks. Ten provinces have been affected in Turkey – there is now a three-month state of emergency. More than 100,000 volunteers traveled to the earthquake zone to help. Some of them have already returned to their homeland.
Experts specializing in natural disasters estimate the economic damage from the earthquake in Turkey and Syria at more than 20 billion dollars (18.72 billion euros). Only a fraction of that – a good billion dollars – is insured, according to an initial estimate by US company Verisk Analytics (formerly AIR Worldwide), released on Tuesday.