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NATO Chief Pledges Support for Earthquake-Hit Turkey

Written by on February 16, 2023

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was in the Turkish capital, Ankara, Thursday in a show of solidarity following last week’s earthquake that devastated parts of Turkey and Syria.

Speaking alongside Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Stoltenberg told reporters that NATO stands with Turkey, a NATO member, in its time of need.

“We salute the courage of the Turkish first responders and we mourn with you,” Stoltenberg said.

He said the alliance’s focus now will be on reconstruction and supporting those displaced by the earthquake. Specific efforts he mentioned were setting up temporary housing and using NATO strategic airlift capabilities to bring in thousands of tents to Turkey.

Turkey’s emergency management agency reported Thursday the country’s death toll rose to 36,187 people, with 108,000 others injured. The agency said more than 4,300 aftershocks have hit the area since the massive February 6 earthquake.

Meanwhile, more than 5,500 deaths have been confirmed in neighboring Syria, according to figures compiled by the United Nations humanitarian agency and Syria’s state-run news agency.

Millions of people who survived the quake need humanitarian aid, authorities say, with many survivors left homeless in near-freezing winter temperatures. Rescues are now few and far between.

With much of the region’s sanitation infrastructure damaged or rendered inoperable by the earthquakes, health authorities are facing a daunting task in trying to ensure that people now remain disease-free.

Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said Wednesday people in war-torn Syria also face new challenges.

After visiting Syria in the last few days, she said in a statement, “For more than a decade, people across Syria have experienced the devastation of armed conflict. When the 6 February earthquake struck the region, communities suffered dramatic levels of devastation no matter what side of the frontline they were on. Family and friends were killed, homes were destroyed, and people were displaced yet again. Medical care, safe drinking water, and reliable food supply sources immediately became crucial to survival.”

Relief effort scales up across Syria

Meanwhile, humanitarian organizations are trying to scale up operations in Syria to meet the massive needs.

The U.N. Population Fund’s regional director said that across Syria there are 40,000 women who are pregnant and due to give birth in the next three months.

“Many of the facilities that we visited are already depleted or damaged or both,” Laila Baker, UNFPA’s Arab States Regional Director told reporters by video from Aleppo. “There are stock outs of medications for treating very basic things like the flu, much less something as complicated as having a C[esarean]-section.”

She had just visited a maternity hospital in Aleppo, once a thriving metropolis, now scarred from 12 years of civil war and the earthquake. She said all of the wards were full and the facility lacked basics, such as bed sheets. Exhausted staff were working 18-hour shifts trying to assist as many women as they could.

At makeshift shelters, many in mosques and schools, Baker said there are no toilets.

“For a woman, many of whom are pregnant, they are facing dire circumstances,” she said.

UNFPA launched an appeal on Tuesday for $24 million to cover immediate needs for the next three months.

Separately, 22 trucks from the World Food Program carrying canned food and mattresses, crossed Wednesday into northwest Syria through the Bab al-Hawa border point from Turkey. WFP has also been distributing ready-to-eat meals and other food items in government-controlled areas, including Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces. Also Wednesday, the International Organization for Migration delivered shelter and nonfood items through the newly reopened Bab al-Salam crossing.

The United Nations says 117 trucks have crossed into the opposition-controlled northwest since aid started rolling on February 9.

On Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres launched a $397 million appeal for the earthquake response in Syria, adding that a similar appeal is being drawn up for Turkey.

The VOA Turkish Service contributed to this report, as did correspondent Margaret Besheer at the United Nations. This report includes some information from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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