The devastating earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria have killed at least 50,000 people, with many more injured, tens of thousands still missing, and hundreds of thousands homeless, the UN humanitarian chief has said.
Martin Griffiths told the UN security council on Tuesday that three weeks after the magnitude 7.8 quake hit southern Turkey and northern Syria, followed by strong aftershocks including on Monday, the scale of the disaster is now much clearer.
At least 44,000 people have been killed in Turkey and about 6,000 in Syria, mainly in the rebel-held north-west.
Mr. Griffiths told the council meeting focusing on Syria that 15.3 million people in Syria — 70 percent of the country’s population — needed humanitarian assistance before the earthquakes. He said he saw during a post-quake visit that, in harsh winter conditions, entire neighbourhoods had been destroyed.
“Early assessments indicated 5 million people in Syria require basic shelter and non-food assistance,” the undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs said.
“In many areas, four to five families are packed into tents, with no special facilities for older people, people with chronic illnesses or those with disabilities.”
Race against time
Top UN officials on Tuesday called on the Security Council’s strong support for Syria following the February 6th earthquakes, which worsened an already dire situation in the wake of 12 years of brutal civil war.
The UN Emergency Coordinator and the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria called for robust support for ongoing emergency efforts and a “bold” plan for paving a political path towards lasting recovery and reconciliation.
Briefing the 15-member body on the severity of humanitarian needs, Rasha Muhrez, Response Director at the international non-governmental organization Save the Children, said new, creative approaches are needed to meet the scale of current challenges.
“We are now in a race against time,” she warned. “Families are forced to make impossible choices and may even take a perilous journey across the Mediterranean.”
Children need homes, not tents
“Without a change in approach, just to rebuild what was lost, Syrians would need to wait another lifetime,” she said.
“Children need safe homes to live in, not tents; their parents need jobs that pay a decent wage and allow them to provide for their families.”
She said that the earthquake response should be a moment to come together and put politics aside, emphasizing that “the children of Syria are counting on us all.”
WHO chief ‘heartbroken’
Available funding and new border crossings were still not enough to help quake-hit citizens in Syria’s battered northwest, the head of the WHO said on Wednesday, adding he was “disturbed and heartbroken” by a visit to the rebel-held region.
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke to reporters after visiting a hospital in the area where more than 4,000 people have died due to last month’s devastating earthquake.
Syrian regime bombs northwest Syria ‘more than 84 times since earthquake
The Syrian regime bombed the Bab al-Hawa highway in the northwest province of Idlib on Tuesday, a key route used by the UN to transport aid into the area from Turkey.
The regime launched over 30 rockets and artillery shells at different villages in Idlib, injuring a woman and her daughter, local sources told Al-Araby al-Jadeed.
Despite the bombing, the flow of goods through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing was not interrupted on Wednesday, with the crossing administration reporting the continual passage of aid convoys.
The White Helmets, a local first responders group, called for an immediate halt to all Russian and Syrian bombings in the northwest so that search and rescue missions could proceed unhindered.
Despite the call for a ceasefire, the Syrian regime has bombed northwest Syria more than 84 times since the earthquake – with most strikes in densely populated areas.
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
On Tuesday night, Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned that countries should not normalize ties with the Syrian regime without “pressing for accountability for the crimes that the Syrian authorities have committed.”
Arab states seeking to normalize relationships should recognize that the Syrian government in power today is the same one that forcibly disappeared tens of thousands of people and other serious human rights violations against its citizens even before the uprisings began, the group said.
It added that there is very little reason to believe these practices will stop without genuine accountability and reform.
On the government side
SANA reported that the Minister of Expatriates and Foreign Affairs, Dr. Faisal al-Mekdad met Wednesday an Iranian parliamentary delegation from the Iranian-Syrian Parliamentary Friendship Association at the Iranian Islamic Shura Council, headed by Abbas Kalro, Vice Chairman of the Association.
Mekdad, hailing the close cooperation between the two countries, expressed appreciation to Iran for its support during the earthquake, noting its immediate response by sending planes with humanitarian assistance and rescue teams.
He reviewed the impacts of the terrorist war on the country and the destruction left by terrorists who undermined Syria’s capacity to address the devastating earthquake, not to mention the unilateral coercive measures against Syria, which impeded the delivery of humanitarian aid and search-and-rescue supplies.
Kalro, for his part, conveyed his sincere condolences and that of the Iranian Islamic Shura Council to families of the earthquake victims, affirming his country’s support to Syria to overcome the hardships in the aftermath of the catastrophe.
Mekdad also met Major Gen. Patrick Gauchat, Head of Mission of the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO).
The two sides discussed the tasks of the mission and means of cooperation in various areas within the framework of its mandate.
Minister Mekdad briefed Gauchat on the suffering of Syrian citizens in the occupied Syrian Golan due to the inhumane practices of the occupation Israeli forces and their persistent violations of international laws by directly targeting the civilians in Syria and Palestine-the most recent crimes in Nablus and deliberately bombing Kafarsouseh residential district in Damascus.
Mekdad affirmed that Israeli crimes breach the rules of international law, referring to the importance of monitoring such practices by the United Nations, condemning, and exerting pressure to stop them, ending the Israeli occupation, and implementing the relevant resolutions of international legitimacy.
For his part, Major Gen. Gauchat reviewed the mission’s tasks in the countries where its troops and military observers are deployed.
He referred to the importance of the UNTSO and its international support in light of the region’s need for it.
Gauchat hailed the coordination between Syria and UNTSO, represented by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense.