The first convoy of UN aid for opposition-held north-west Syria since Monday’s devastating earthquake has crossed into the region from Turkey.
Officials said six lorries carrying hygiene kits and other items had gone through Idlib’s Bab al-Hawa crossing. The shipment had been due before the disaster, which caused damage to roads and temporarily halted deliveries.
Local rescuers expressed disappointment at the failure to send the equipment they need to save lives.
“The UN aid… is the regular and periodic assistance that has been occurring since before the earthquake,” tweeted the White Helmets, an organisation whose volunteer first responders operate in the region.
“It is not special aid and equipment for the search and rescue teams, and the recovery of those trapped under the rubble.”
The White Helmets have reported at least 1,930 deaths since the 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck southern Turkey in the early hours of Monday. They have warned that the figure is likely to rise significantly because hundreds of families are still trapped beneath 418 destroyed and more than 1,300 partially destroyed buildings.
On Thursday morning, as the window to find survivors narrowed, the White Helmets said the lack of heavy machinery was significantly hampering their work and appealed to the international community for help.
Harsh winter weather conditions have also complicated the operation, while major power outages have resulted in fuel shortages at hospitals overwhelmed by the 2,950 injured survivors.
“The situation is very bad. And there is no aid,” Ibrahim Khalil Menkaween told Reuters news agency in the town of Jindayris.
The 56-year-old, who lost seven members of his family, including his wife, was waiting next to the remains of his home with a body bag to give to rescuers.
“I’m holding this bag for when they bring out my brother, and my brother’s young son, and both of their wives,” he explained.
Even before the earthquake struck, 4.1 million people trapped – most of them women and children – were relying on humanitarian assistance to survive in the opposition-held north-west, which is controlled by a jihadist alliance and Turkish-backed rebel factions opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.
Last year, about 600 lorries carrying aid crossed from Turkey each month via Bab al-Hawa, the only border crossing that the UN is authorised to use. All other deliveries are meant to go via Damascus, although in the past the government has facilitated only a small amount of so-called “cross-line” aid.
The UN special envoy for Syria said on Thursday that earthquake-affected regions of the country had received “nowhere near enough” lifesaving aid and warned that assistance must not be “politicised”.
“We need it urgently through the fastest, most direct and most effective routes. They need more of absolutely everything,” Geir Pedersen told reporters in Geneva.
He was speaking after a meeting of the UN’s humanitarian task force for Syria, which includes Russia and Iran, whose forces have backed the Syrian government in the country’s 12-year civil war, as well as Turkey, the United States and the European Union, which support the opposition.
The UN top aid official in Syria, El-Mostafa Benlamlih, has said the country was experiencing a “crisis on top of a crisis”, with 10.9 million people affected by earthquake nationwide. —BBC