UN agencies launch emergency response after devastating Türkiye and Syria quakes
06 February 2023
"My heart goes out to the people of Türkiye and Syria in this hour of tragedy" said the UN Secretary-General António Guterres in a statement. "The United Nations is fully committed to supporting the response. Our teams are on the ground assessing the needs and providing assistance."
In a situation overview published shortly after 4pm GMT, UN aid coordination office OCHA, said that there had been "close to 2,000 death reported" in the two countries impacted, with at least 78 aftershocks reported, ahead of the second earthquake.
The Turkish Government has issued a Level 4 alarm, calling for international assistance. The earthquake also heavily impacted northwest Syria, which is home to around 4.1 million people who rely on humanitarian assistance, the majority being women and children.
Syrian communities have been hit by an on-going cholera outbreak together with harsh winter weather. So far there is a 48 per cent funding gap for the last quarter of 2022, with $371 million pledged, out of a required total of just over $800 million.
Mr. Guterres said that the UN was counting on the international community to help the many thousands caught up in the disaster, "many of whom were already in dire need of humanitarian aid in areas where access is a challenge."
Emergency medical teams from the World Health Organization, WHO, have been given the green light to provide essential care for the injured and most vulnerable, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a tweet.
Specialist UN surge teams from the Office of UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) also tweeted that they were “ready to deploy”, amid multiple horrifying social media posts showing huge buildings collapsing in heavily built-up areas.
In a statement issued via Twitter, the UN in Türkiye expressed deep sadness at the loss of life and the destruction of property. The team expressed its condolences to the families of victims "as well as to the people and Government", wishing the injured a speedy recovery.
"United Nations Türkiye expresses its solidarity with Türkiye and is ready to assist."
Syria aid lifeline hit
UN humanitarian coordinating office OCHAunderscored that the initial 7.8 magnitude quake hit at the height of winter. The epicentre was in southern Türkiye, where nearby Gaziantep – an important UN aid hub for northern Syria - was among the cities affected.
“Deeply saddened by the loss of life caused by this morning’s #earthquake,” the UN refugee agency in Syria (UNHCR) tweeted, adding that it was “actively coordinating a response with #UN Agencies and other humanitarian actors to deliver assistance and support to those in need in Syria”.
The UN along with humanitarian partners, assists some 2.7 million people every month in northwest Syria, via cross-border air deliveries.
The UN reported that 224 buildings were completely destroyed and at least 325 partially destroyed by the quakes, in 17 different subdistricts there, according to initial information from local authorities.
Idlib, Aleppo shock
Although the earthquake was felt as far away as Lebanon, closer to home, northern Syria’s Aleppo and Idlib also reportedly saw thousands of building collapse, including two hospitals.
Humanitarian needs in northern Syria are already huge, as the region is home to millions of people displaced by the country’s long-running war.
Snow and rain have hampered the work of rescue teams, whose families are also among those believed to buried under collapsed buildings.
After an official request for international assistance from Ankara, the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, confirmed that it was ready to support the emergency response.
“The images we’re seeing out of Syria and Türkiye are heart-wrenching,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell. “That the initial earthquake happened so early in the morning, when many children were fast asleep, made it even more dangerous, and the aftershocks bring continuing risks.
"Our hearts and thoughts are with the children and families affected, especially those who have lost loved ones or who have been injured. Our immediate priority is to ensure children and families affected receive the support they so desperately need."
In an update late on Monday, UNICEF said that official figures from the two nations affected indicated that more than 2,300 have died and "these numbers are only likely to increase." Heavy snowstorms have hit parts of Syria and Türkiye in recent days, with further sub-zero temperatures forecasted. It is likely that schools, hospitals and other medical and educational facilities will have been damaged or destroyed by the earthquakes, further impacting children, said UNICEF. Potential damage to roads and critical infrastructure will also complicate search and rescue efforts and the wider humanitarian response.
Echoing that message of support, UN migration agency, IOM, said that is warehouse in Gaziantep had prepared non-food items and essential relief ready to be deployed. “IOM teams are also doing on-the-ground assessments to inform the response”, said spokesperson Safa Msehli.
Director-General Antonio Vitorino tweeted his solidarity “with people in Türkiye, Syria, Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, Jordan and all those affected following the deadly earthquake. We will be working closely with governments in the region to support those affected and help alleviate their suffering.”
WHO on the ground
The World Health Organization's classified emergency medical teams initiative has been activated to provide essential healthcare for the injured and most vulnerable affected by the disaster, in response to a request for international assistance, the agency said.
National authorities are focusing on search and rescue in the immediate aftermath of the earthquakes, while anticipating increased need for trauma care to treat the injured.
“The immediate priority is to support the response locally,” said Dr. Catherine Smallwood, Senior Emergency Manager coordinating the Türkiye earthquake response at WHO/Europe. “Türkiye has very strong capacity to respond to earthquakes, but such is the level of the destruction, they have put out an alert for international medical assistance. And we are coordinating potential deployment with the Turkish authorities.”
There are more than 700 UN staff members in total based in the earthquake-hit areas. In the Turkish city of Hatay there are two international staff and 52 national staffers, said the UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric, briefing correspondents in New York, where a headcount is underway to ensure that everyone is accounted for. In Gaziantep, there are some 154 international and 376 national staff members, all of whom have been accounted for.
"In Syria, all staff are safe and accounted for", Mr. Dujarric added.
A version of this article first appeared in UN News here.
To read more about the UN's response and efforts in Türkiye, visit turkiye.un.org.
To learn more about the UN's response and work in Syria, visit syria.un.org.
UN entities involved in this initiative
International Organization for Migration
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs