Rescuers search for survivors under the rubble following an earthquake in Diyarbakir, Turkiye February 2023. (Photo Credit: REUTERS/Sertac Kayar)
The death toll from the devastating earthquake that hit Turkiye and Syria has risen to 44,000, according to Turkish ministry of interior official figures, while the United Nations has appealed for $1 billion to address the growing humanitarian crisis.
The Turkish disaster management agency said 38,044 people have died in Turkiye and 5,800 in Syria since 6 February as a result of the quake.
Many people in the affected areas are dealing with a parallel emergency as they attempt to gather their belongings amid extreme cold, without food or water, increasing the chances that the disaster will worsen due to disease.
“The necessities are enormous, people are suffering and there is no time to lose,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned in a statement in which he appealed for funds to help the victims.
Guterres said the contributions would provide relief for three months to 5.2 million people.
The money would “enable aid organizations to rapidly scale up life-saving support” in areas such as food security, protection, education, water and shelter.
“I urge the international community to step up and fully fund this crucial effort in response to one of the worst natural disasters of our time,” he added.
Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejected accusations that his government failed to respond effectively to the country’s deadliest natural disaster in recent times.
It took several days for the rescue services to reach the heart of the disaster area, while the survivors, abandoned and without food, tried as best they could to pull their loved ones out of the rubble.
Erdogan admitted that the coordination of relief efforts had “gaps,” but he insisted that no one could have done any better given the magnitude of the 7.8 tremor, which struck at night and in populated areas.
On 16 February, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gave a televised speech in which he highlighted the repercussions of the deadly earthquake and thanked the countries that rushed to aid Syria following the disaster.
The “twelve years of war and embargo … gave Syrian society the expertise and the ability to act quickly and effectively in the early hours of the earthquake,” Assad said.
The president admitted that the disaster’s magnitude outweighs Syria’s available capabilities and resources, as other officials have suggested recently.