Top U.N. official says Syria’s earthquake response faces challenges

Timour Azhari

BEIRUT, (Reuters) – A top U.N. humanitarian official claimed that Syria’s severe winter weather and fuel shortages were hindering their response to Monday’s earthquake in Syria. The disaster left more than 1,200 dead and millions of people in need of assistance.

People rushed to the streets of Syria’s north after the massive earthquake, which also killed more than 2,300 people in Turkey, caused by past air strikes and bombardments that have traumatized the population and damaged many buildings.

“The infrastructure has been damaged, and the roads that we used for humanitarian purposes are now closed, so we need to think creatively about how we can get to people… but we’re working hard,” El-Mostafa Benlamlih (U.N. resident coordinator) told Reuters in a video interview from Damascus.

Before the magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Monday morning, the U.N. believed that more than 4,000,000 people in northwest Syria were dependent on cross-border aid. Many of these people had been displaced during the 12-year conflict.

While the frontlines of Syria remain largely frozen over years, a worsening economic crisis has caused severe damage to the country. It has seen fuel shortages, increased power cut and increasing poverty.

According to the United Nations’, 70% of the population requires humanitarian aid.

This was all before the quake.

Benlamlih explained that “they are the exact same people – they are suffering more.”

He observed that many of the people who lost their homes were sleeping in open cars or out in the open, sometimes in freezing temperatures without access to basic clothing like blankets and mattresses.

He stated that the United Nations was working hard to mobilize as much aid as possible to the affected areas, both in rebel-held and government-held areas.

International support is underfunded and stretched.

The U.N. received less than half the $4.4 billion it needed from donors to meet its growing needs in 2022. Benlamlih stated that if this trend continues, prospects for a recovery after the Syrian crisis may dim.

“We’re using whatever we have right now. Benlamlih stated that they will hopefully be able get it replenished for normal needs.

“When we get less than half of our funding, it is not because we managed. The crisis continues to grow and the number of people in need keeps increasing.”

(Reporting and editing by Timour Azhari; Deepa Babington

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