Syria earthquake: Aid, relief shortages leave rescue teams concerned

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In the aftermath of the catastrophic earthquake that hit Syria and neighboring Turkey, rescue teams are warning that the already-dwindling supplies of aid could delay life-saving efforts.

The death toll in both countries reached over 21,000 as of Friday morning, five days after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck, toppling down entire buildings including homes, hospitals, and clinics.

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Damaged buildings and rescue operations are seen in the aftermath of the earthquake, in Aleppo, Syria February 7, 2023. (Reuters)
Damaged buildings and rescue operations are seen in the aftermath of the earthquake, in Aleppo, Syria February 7, 2023. (Reuters)

The number of deaths is expected to keep rising, with tens of thousands of people left injured and homeless.

When the earthquake hit, Syrian communities in the northern part of the country were already weighed down by the long-running war, diminishing resources impacted by a strained economy, and an outbreak of cholera that was overwhelming hospitals with little medical supplies, according to the United Nations.

Around 4.1 million people in northern Syria relied on humanitarian aid before the quake.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Monday called on the international community to “help the thousands of families hit by this disaster, many of whom were already in dire need of humanitarian aid in areas where access is a challenge.”

A child is rescued from the rubble in the aftermath of an earthquake in Azmarin, Syria, February 7, 2023. (Reuters)
A child is rescued from the rubble in the aftermath of an earthquake in Azmarin, Syria, February 7, 2023. (Reuters)

In the past, opposition-controlled parts of Syria would have aid sent from international organizations through border crossings with Turkey, but much of the routes were also damaged in the quake.

Only one border crossing – the Bab-al Hawa crossing on the Turkish side – is currently open.

A few aid convoys have been able to reach opposition-held northwestern Syria on Thursday and Friday for the first time since the earthquake, an Al Arabiya correspondent reported.

Convoys carrying humanitarian aids from Kurds drive to the crossing, to be taken to Syria's quake-hit northwest, at Manbij countryside, Aleppo Governorate, Syria February 9, 2023. (Reuters)
Convoys carrying humanitarian aids from Kurds drive to the crossing, to be taken to Syria's quake-hit northwest, at Manbij countryside, Aleppo Governorate, Syria February 9, 2023. (Reuters)

But the World Health Food Program (WFP) is calling for the opening of more border crossings as its supplies were beginning to run out.

“Northwest Syria, where 90 percent of the population depends on humanitarian assistance, is a big concern. We have reached the people there, but we need to replenish our stocks,” Corinne Fleischer, WFP Regional Director in the Middle East, Northern Africa and Eastern Europe, told reporters.

“We are running out of stocks, and we need access to bring new stocks in. The border crossing is open now, but we need to get new border crossings open,” she added.

Syria sanctions hinder aid

The Syrian government has also said that Western sanctions imposed on the country reportedly prevent aid from reaching the quake-affected areas.

In a press conference, Syria’s Local Administration and Environment Minister Hussein Makhlouf said that the sanctions imposed on his country hindered efforts to deal with the earthquake in the affected governorates.

Meanwhile, the opposition considers that the lifting of sanctions means once again enabling the Syrian regime to reimpose its control over the country.

On Friday, the US Treasury issued a statement saying it would be authorizing earthquake-related relief to get through to Syria that would otherwise be prohibited by sanctions.

“US sanctions in Syria will not stand in the way of life-saving efforts for the Syrian people,” the Treasury said in a statement.

“While US sanctions programs already contain robust exemptions for humanitarian efforts, today Treasury is issuing a blanket General License to authorize earthquake relief efforts so that those providing assistance can focus on what’s needed most: saving lives and rebuilding,” the statement added.

The new license will last for six months and expands on broad humanitarian authorizations that are already in effect, according to the treasury.

Several countries, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have sent aid and rescue teams to both Syria and Turkey in the days following the disaster.

Saudi rescue and medic teams arrived in Turkey’s Adana on February 9, 2023. (SPA)
Saudi rescue and medic teams arrived in Turkey’s Adana on February 9, 2023. (SPA)

Read more:

Turkey, Syria earthquake: How and what to donate to UAE relief efforts

Al-Assad visits Syria’s Aleppo hospital in first reported trip to earthquake-hit area

Kurdish militants temporarily suspend ‘operations’ after deadly earthquake in Turkey

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