UN agencies launch emergency response after devastating Türkiye and Syria quakes

© UNOCHA/Ali Haj Suleiman Rescue workers look for survivors in a building in Samada, Syria destroyed by the February 6 earthquake.

United Nations, 6 February 2023

After a massive earthquake hit southern Türkiye and northern Syria in the early hours of Monday, prompting fears of a humanitarian crisis, UN aid agencies have scrambled to help many thousands of reported victims, including those still believed to be buried under the rubble. The initial 7.8 magnitude quake struck close to Gaziantep, followed by another 7.5 magnitude earthquake several hours later. 

My heart goes out to the people of Türkiye and Syria in this hour of tragedy” said the UN Secretary-General António Guterres in a statement. “The United Nations is fully committed to supporting the response. Our teams are on the ground assessing the needs and providing assistance.”

In a situation overview published shortly after 4pm GMT, UN aid coordination office OHCHA, said that there had been “close to 2,000 death reported” in the two countries impacted, with at least 78 aftershocks reported, ahead of the second earthquake.

The Turkish Government has issued a Level 4 alarm, calling for international assistance. Northwest Syria is home to around 4.1 million people who rely on humanitarian assistance, the majority, women and children. 

Syrian communities have been hit by an on-going cholera outbreak together with harsh winter weather. So far there is a 48 per cent funding gap for the last quarter of 2022, with $371 million pledged, out of a required total of just over $800 million.

Mr. Guterres said that the UN was counting on the international community to help the many thousands caught up in the disaster, “many of whom were already in dire need of humanitarian aid in areas where access is a challenge.”

Emergency medical teams from the World Health Organization, WHO, have been given the green light to provide essential care for the injured and most vulnerable, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a tweet.

Specialist UN surge teams from the Office of UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) also tweeted that they were “ready to deploy”, amid multiple horrifying social media posts showing huge buildings collapsing in heavily built-up areas.

In a statement issued via Twitter, the UN in Türkiye expressed deep sadness at the loss of life and the destruction of property. The team expressed its condolences to the families of victims “as well as to the people and Government”, wishing the injured a speedy recovery.

“United Nations Türkiye expresses its solidarity with Türkiye and is ready to assist.”

Syria aid lifeline hit

UN humanitarian coordinating office OCHA underscored that the initial 7.8 magnitude quake hit at the height of winter. The epicentre was in southern Türkiye, where nearby Gaziantep – an important UN aid hub for northern Syria – was among the cities affected.

Deeply saddened by the loss of life caused by this morning’s #earthquake,” the UN refugee agency in Syria (UNHCRtweeted, adding that it was “actively coordinating a response with #UN Agencies and other humanitarian actors to deliver assistance and support to those in need in Syria”.

The UN along with humanitarian partners, assists some 2.7 million people every month in northwest Syria, via cross-border air deliveries.

The UN reported that 224 buildings were completely destroyed and at least 325 partially destroyed by the quakes, in 17 different subdistricts there, according to initial information from local authorities.

A victim of the February 6 earthquake is treated in Samada, Syria.

© UNOCHA/Ali Haj Suleiman A victim of the February 6 earthquake is treated in Samada, Syria.

Ms. Nderitu was particularly concerned about the situation in the North West and North Central regions of Nigeria, where the air attacks took place.  

“These dynamics of targeting communities along identity lines, if unaddressed, risk further fuelling intercommunal tensions, recruitment by armed groups and retaliatory attacks, with obvious impact on civilians” she added. 

The Special Adviser said the worsening security situation in Nigeria is characterized by the politicization of transhumance, the seasonal movement of livestock for grazing, and increasing divisions among communities, including based on stigmatization along religious and ethnic lines. 

Idlib, Aleppo shock

Although the earthquake was felt as far away as Lebanon, closer to home, northern Syria’s Aleppo and Idlib also reportedly saw thousands of building collapse, including two hospitals.

Humanitarian needs in northern Syria are already huge, as the region is home to millions of people displaced by the country’s long-running war.

Snow and rain have hampered the work of rescue teams, whose families are also among those believed to buried under collapsed buildings.

Buildings in Idlib, Syria, have been damaged by the earthquake which struck the region.

© UNOCHA/Ali Haj Suleiman | Buildings in Idlib, Syria, have been damaged by the earthquake which struck the region.

Beyond Nigeria, Ms. Nderitu expressed concern over the manipulation of transhumance in political discourse, across the whole of West Africa and the vast Sahel region. 

 “Continuous high levels of violence targeting communities in relation to transhumance, including with hate speech and incitement to violence, are particularly concerning in view of upcoming elections in many countries in the region,” she said.  

The UN official appealed for urgent action to address conflicts, prevent atrocity crimes and allow for peaceful elections to take place.

UN-wide support

After an official request for international assistance from Ankara, the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, confirmed that it was ready to support the emergency response.

Our hearts and thoughts are with the children and families in Türkiye and Syria affected by the devastating earthquakes. Our deepest condolences to those who lost loved ones,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell.

Echoing that message of support, UN migration agency, IOM, said that is warehouse in Gaziantep had prepared non-food items and essential relief ready to be deployed. “IOM teams are also doing on-the-ground assessments to inform the response”, said spokesperson Safa Msehli.

Director-General Antonio Vitorino tweeted his solidarity “with people in Türkiye, Syria, Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, Jordan and all those affected following the deadly earthquake. We will be working closely with governments in the region to support those affected and help alleviate their suffering.”

The search for survivors continues in Samada, Syria following the February 6 earthquake .

© UNOCHA/Ali Haj Suleiman The search for survivors continues in Samada, Syria following the February 6 earthquake .

Update: Thousands more at risk – UNICEF

In an update late on Monday, UN Children’s Fund UNICEF said that official figures from the two nations affected indicated that more than 2,300 have died and “these numbers are only likely to increase.”

Heavy snowstorms have hit parts of Syria and Türkiye in recent days, with further sub-zero temperatures forecasted.

“The images we’re seeing out of Syria and Türkiye are heart-wrenching,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell. “That the initial earthquake happened so early in the morning, when many children were fast asleep, made it even more dangerous, and the aftershocks bring continuing risks.

“Our hearts and thoughts are with the children and families affected, especially those who have lost loved ones or who have been injured.  Our immediate priority is to ensure children and families affected receive the support they so desperately need.” 

It is likely that schools, hospitals and other medical and educational facilities will have been damaged or destroyed by the earthquakes, further impacting children, said UNICEF. Potential damage to roads and critical infrastructure will also complicate search and rescue efforts and the wider humanitarian response.

WHO on the ground

The World Health Organization’s classified emergency medical teams initiative has been activated to provide essential healthcare for the injured and most vulnerable affected by the disaster, in response to a request for international assistance, the agency said.

National authorities are focusing on search and rescue in the immediate aftermath of the earthquakes, while anticipating increased need for trauma care to treat the injured.

“The immediate priority is to support the response locally,” said Dr. Catherine Smallwood, Senior Emergency Manager coordinating the Türkiye earthquake response at WHO/Europe. “Türkiye has very strong capacity to respond to earthquakes, but such is the level of the destruction, they have put out an alert for international medical assistance. And we are coordinating potential deployment with the Turkish authorities.”

There are more than 700 UN staff members in total based in the earthquake-hit areas. In the Turkish city of Hatay there are two international staff and 52 national staffers, said the UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric, briefing correspondents in New York, where a headcount is underway to ensure that everyone is accounted for. In Gaziantep, there are some 154 international and 376 national staff members, all of whom have been accounted for.

“In Syria, all staff are safe and accounted for”, Mr. Dujarric added.

The original article appeared here.

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