UNITED NATIONS: UN aid agencies have scrambled to help many thousands of victims of the massive earthquake, that hit southern Türkiye and northern Syria, amid fears of a gigantic humanitarian crisis.
The initial 7.8 magnitude quake struck close to Gaziantep early Monday morning, followed by another 7.5 magnitude tremor several hours later.
“My heart goes out to the people of Türkiye and Syria in this hour of tragedy”, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement.
“The United Nations is fully committed to supporting the response,” he said. “Our teams are on the ground assessing the needs and providing assistance.”
More than two thousand have reportedly died and many more are injured with the toll continuing to rise as the rescue work continues.
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.”
UN humanitarian coordinating office OCHA underscored that the 7.4 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, 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”.
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.
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, the UN migration agency, IOM, said that its 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.
IOM 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.”