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Turkey-Syria Rescue Efforts Continue, Death Toll Reaches 23,700

Around 24.4 million people in Turkey and Syria have been affected

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Sadaf Hasan
Sadaf Hasan
Aspiring reporter covering trending topics

TURKEY/SYRIA: The death toll in southern Turkey and northwest Syria has climbed to 23,700 after five days of rescue operations following Monday’s deadliest earthquake in the region in two decades.

Turkey-Syria earthquake affected millions

In the bleak winter weather, hundreds of thousands of people have been left homeless and hungry, and leaders in both nations have been questioned about their responses.

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The Turkish health minister said that there have already been 20,213 fatalities throughout the nation. Over 3,500 people have died in Syria. Many more people remain beneath the debris.

On Friday, aid poured into Turkey, with rescue crews digging many people out of the rubble as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the rescue efforts were “not as fast as we wanted them to be.”

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“Even though we currently have the largest search and rescue team in the world, it is a fact that search activities are not moving as quickly as we would like them to,” on his visit to Turkey’s Adiyaman region on Friday, the president said.

Erdogan’s opponents have seized on the fact that he is running for re-election in a vote planned for May 14 to criticise him. Due to the catastrophe, the election may now be delayed. The disaster, if it occurs, is likely to influence the election because of simmering resentment over the delays in relief delivery and starting the rescue attempt.

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Even before the earthquake, it was expected that Erdogan’s re-election would be his toughest test during his 20 years in office. Erdogan has since called for unity and decried what he has called “negative campaigns for political interest.”

Criticising the government response, the head of Turkey’s main opposition party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, said, “The earthquake was massive, but the lack of cooperation, lack of planning, and incompetence was much worse than the earthquake.”

Meanwhile, Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, visited a hospital in Aleppo with his wife, Asma, on his first public visit to the disaster zones since the earthquake, according to official media.

In a step that could hasten the delivery of aid to millions of indigent people, his government also authorised humanitarian aid deliveries across the frontlines of the nation’s 12-year civil conflict. 

As the state of war hindered humanitarian efforts, the World Food Programme earlier reported that it was running low on supplies in northwest Syria, which is controlled by rebels.

The earthquake, which happened early on Monday, is currently the seventh deadliest natural disaster of this century, surpassing the earthquake and tsunami that rocked Japan in 2011 and coming close to the 31,000 people killed by an earthquake in neighbouring Iran in 2003.

The fatality count from the 7.8-magnitude quake and several strong aftershocks across both nations had surpassed the more than 17,000 killed in 1999 when a similar huge earthquake struck northwest Turkey.

Hope amid ruins

Teams of rescuers, including those from several other countries, searched through the rubble of numerous devastated buildings day and night for buried survivors. They frequently called for silence as they listened for any sounds of life emanating from the crumbling concrete mounds in the icy air.

Rescuers from the White Helmets organisation across the border in Syria dug with their hands through cement and plaster until they found a small girl barefoot that was still covered in pink pyjamas, filthy but alive and free. However, hope that many more people might be discovered alive was diminishing.

According to Turkish authorities and the UN, an area spanning around 450 km (280 miles) from Adana in the west to Diyarbakir in the east has affected about 24.4 million people in Turkey and Syria.

At Hama, 250 km to the south of the epicentre, there were fatalities in Syria. Many people have built shelters in the parking lots of supermarkets and mosques, on the sides of the road, or in the rubble. Survivors are often in dire need of heat, water, and food.

According to official media, the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent will work together to distribute aid across the frontlines in Syria as agreed on Friday.

More aid was needed in Syria, especially in the northwest, where the UN estimated that more than 4 million people were in need even before the earthquake. The UN had pushed for this to happen.

Since Monday, dozens of planeloads of aid have landed in the regions controlled by Assad’s administration, but little has made it to the northwest.

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