By Asmau Ahmad
United Nations on Monday launched emergency response to help many thousands of reported victims, including those still believed to be buried under the rubble in a massive earthquake in southern Türkiye and northern Syria.
The initial 7.8 magnitude quake struck close to Gaziantep, followed by another 7.5 magnitude earthquake several hours later in early hours of Monday.
“My heart goes out to the people of Türkiye and Syria in this hour of tragedy. The United Nations is fully committed to supporting the response.
“Our teams are on the ground assessing the needs and providing assistance,” the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, said in a statement.
In a situation overview published shortly after 4pm GMT, UN aid coordination office OHCHA, said there had been “close to 2,000 deaths 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 dollars pledged, out of a required total of just over 800 million dollars.
Guterres said 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 Organisation (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 over the loss of lives 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,” said the statement.
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 (UNHCR) tweeted.
It added 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.
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 be buried under collapsed buildings.
Buildings in Idlib, Syria, have been damaged by the earthquake which struck the region.
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,” UNICEF Executive Director, Catherine Russell, said.
Echoing that message of support, UN Migration Agency (IOM), said a 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,” spokesperson Safa Msehli, said.
Director-General of IOM, 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.”