PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE
7 February 2023
Earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria
Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), quoted the Secretary-General, who had said that “our hearts go out to the people of Türkiye and Syria in this hour of tragedy”. The Secretary-General sent his deepest condolences to the families of the victims and wished a speedy recovery to the injured. The United Nations was fully committed to supporting the humanitarian response.
Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that at least 3,381 deaths and over 20,000 injuries had been reported by the Government of Türkiye; almost 6,000 buildings had collapsed. In Syria, the Ministry of Health had reported 769 deaths and 1,448 injuries in Aleppo, Idlib, Lattakia and Tartous governorates, A very capable response had been mounted by the Turkish authorities, led by AFAD, the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority. OCHA was deploying two disaster assessment and response expert teams immediately. OCHA was also coordinating the international network for search-and-rescue – capable national teams from around the world certified by the UN, who were on their way to Türkiye right now. On the Syrian side, where there had already been a very robust international presence, reminded Mr. Laerke. The UN was emphasizing that all politics had to be put aside now, and humanitarians needed to be allowed to do their work and save lives today.
Jennifer Fenton, for the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria (OSE), said that Geir Pedersen, the Special Envoy, was deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life and massive destruction from the earthquake affecting thousands in Türkiye and Syria in the middle of winter. He sent his deepest condolences to those affected, and reiterated the Secretary-General’s call on the international community to help the thousands suffering from loss.
Philippe Leclerc, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), speaking from Ankara, said that the situation was tragic in the ten Turkish provinces affected by the earthquakes. Some 8,000 people had already been rescued by the search-and-rescue teams coordinated by the Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD). There were disastrous effects of the earthquakes on the lives of families, Turkish and refugees alike. In some of the affected provinces, one out of two residents were refugees, stressed Mr. Leclerc. UNHCR and other agencies had made their capacities available to AFAD. UNHCR was providing what the Turkish authorities were requesting, including tents and matrasses, to both Turkish nationals and refugees. In this humanitarian effort, no distinction was being made between Turkish citizens and Syrian refugees.
Tamara Alrifai, for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), speaking from Amman, said that there were currently some 438,000 Palestinian refugees in the 12 refugee camps in Syria. Northern Syria was home to some 62,000 Palestine refugees living in and around four camps: Lattakia, Neirab, Ein-el Tal, and Hama. It was estimated that about 90 per cent of those families were in need because of the earthquakes. UNRWA had confirmed that six Palestinian refugees had been killed in the earthquakes, in Lattakia and Neirab. It was expected that the number of fatalities would continue to increase as the search-and-rescue efforts continued. UNRWA schools had become a refuge for large numbers of Palestinians. Medical supplies and non-food items (blankets, tarpaulins, mattresses, and hygiene kits) were most in need. Preventing gender-based violence was another priority. UNRWA was aiming to assist 57,000 Palestinian refugee in the areas accessible from Damascus, for which it was urgently seeking USD 2.7 million.
James Elder, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that this was the most powerful earthquake to hit the region in almost 100 years and had come at the worst possible time for vulnerable children and families in the affected areas. Thousands of homes had been destroyed, displacing families, and exposing them to the elements at a time of year when temperatures regularly dropped below freezing. It had already been an emergency situation in northwest Syria for over four million people. Many children had already been facing brutal winter, simmering conflict, and cholera outbreak. In Syria, the priority was to ensure access to clean water and sanitation; psychological first aid was being provided to survivor children, who were also being protected if unaccompanied. Continued access to education was another priority. UNICEF was filling in its warehouses from its warehouses in Lebanon and Jordan. In Türkiye, the efforts were currently focused on search and rescue, and UNICEF was coordinating with the Government and AFAD on the emerging needs linked to the wider humanitarian response. UNICEF’s support would include hygiene kits, blankets, and winter clothes.
More information is available here.
Tommaso Della Longa, for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), expressed condolences to the communities affected in Türkiye and Syria. On 6 February, the IFRC had launched a preliminary emergency appeal for CHF 70 million for the two countries, but today, as the scale of the damage became apparent, the appeal would already grow to CHF 200 million. Mr. Della Longa said that, in Syria, the Syrian Red Crescent had been responding to the disaster from the early morning on 6 February. Major infrastructural damage was noted in Aleppo, Latakia, Hama, and Tartous governorates, in the areas that had already been damaged by the war. Local populations had already been vulnerable, and the local economy had already been struggling. The authorities’ capabilities and services were affected by numerous shortages of electricity, fuel and skyrocketing prices. Some 175 buildings had collapsed in Latakia, Aleppo, and Hama; 1,509 had died and 3,548 had been wounded. Life-saving support, along with the search-and-rescue efforts, was being provided on the ground, with the Syrian Red Crescent in the lead. A total of 39 shelters had been opened in the three most affected governorates. The authorities lacked the heavy machinery necessary to properly conduct search-and-rescue.
Ruben Cano, head of the IFRC Delegation in Türkiye, speaking from Ankara, estimated that at least 250,000 people in the country were now homeless. The priority was thus to provide temporary housing, including tents, as well as blankets and mattresses. Along with the rescue efforts, the priority was ensuring shelter in the currently cold winter temperatures. Food provisions and psychological support were also being currently offered. Some 1.6 million refugees currently received cash assistance in Türkiye, which would be continued and expanded.
Responding to numerous questions from the media, Philippe Leclerc, for the UNHCR, said that there were more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees in Türkiye. In the affected regions, the refugees had been living in the same buildings with the local population and were now affected the same way. At this stage, there was no difference in response by the Turkish authorities to local and displaced populations. Matthew Saltmarsh, also for the UNHCR, said that in Syria, after the ten years of war, there were almost 7 million internally displaced, vulnerable people; in northwest Syria, over 4.1 million displaced people needed support. UNHCR already had stocks of supplies inside Syria, he explained. He stated that the existing UNHCR appeal for Türkiye stood at USD 348 million, 11 percent of which was funded, while the appeal for Syria was USD 465 million, 7 percent of which was funded as of today.
Jens Laerke, for OCHA, stressed that the priority was search and rescue; the window to find survivors was of about seven days. Twelve international teams had already arrived to help with those efforts; another 27 teams were arriving today and the following day. There was no confirmation of the participation of Iranian experts in those efforts. Access by road was a challenge, and there was a lack of trucks to transport search-and-rescue teams around. Every effort was being made to overcome the existing logistical hurdles created by the earthquakes. Once assessments had been done, there would be more clarity on how much money was needed for the emergency response.
Mr. Laerke stressed that it was imperative for this to be seen as a humanitarian crisis and avoid all politicization. The cross-border operation from Türkiye to Syria was also affected by the earthquakes, in terms of physical infrastructure, but local staff and contractors on the ground had also been directly impacted. Efforts would continue by any available means. Partners in northwest Syria were asking for more supplies and funding, said Mr. Laerke. Some stockpiles were already in place in northwest Syria, which could be distributed with the help of local operational partners. The cross-border operation from Türkiye into Syria was governed by Security Council resolutions, reminded Mr. Laerke. All modalities needed to be employed to get the maximum possible amount of aid to people in need.
Margaret Harris, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that, while the WHO had not yet done an assessment on the ground; the critical things was to get clean water and advise people to boil their water, in order to avoid cholera and other water-borne diseases. WHO Field Office, already present in Gaziantep, supported operations, which provided WHO cross-border operations into to northwest Syria. Surge was currently ongoing to support its operations and support local response capacity.
Answering a question on whether the Secretary-General was planning to visit the affected areas, Alessandra Vellucci, for UNIS, said that the UN’s efforts at the moment were focused on search-and-rescue and conducting an assessment. The Secretary-General was following the situation closely. Answering a question on cross-border access, she reminded that at the time being there was only one open humanitarian border crossing between Türkiye and Syria. Any humanitarian effect of sanctions that could affect the plight of ordinary Syrians should be alleviated, added Ms. Vellucci.
Tommaso Della Longa, for the IFRC, reiterated that the lack of heavy machinery was a critical problem to remove debris. IFRC stated that its primary partners on the ground were the Syrian Red Crescent and the Turkish Red Crescent.
David Hirsch, for the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), said that the ITU operated an emergency telecommunications roster which could be deployed upon a request by Member States.
James Elder, for UNICEF, said that UNICEF at present feared that thousands of children might have been killed in the earthquakes; more precise figures were currently not available.
Alessandra Vellucci, speaking on behalf of the Human Rights Council (HRC), said that the Commission of Inquiry on Syria had issued a press release this morning, calling for an immediate ceasefire in Syria to allow for the optimal search-and-rescue operations and unfettered humanitarian access, necessary to provide life-saving assistance.
Ms. Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), stated that the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which had opened its 84th session on 6 February, was reviewing today the report of Hungary.
Finally, Ms. Vellucci informed that the Conference on Disarmament would hold a plenary meeting today, under the presidency of Egypt.
Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, which was attended by spokespersons and representatives of the Office for the Coordination of the Humanitarian Affairs, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the International Telecommunications Union.