The death toll from Monday’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake on the Turkey-Syria border has topped 11,000 and is climbing as aid agencies warn the coming days could be the worst yet. Hope for those still trapped alive under the rubble has grown dim as freezing temperatures and forecast snowstorms complicate chances for survival.
The World Health Organization warned of a serious risk of survivors in remote areas now freezing to death without electricity, food, water, or shelter. “We don’t have a tent, we don’t have a heating stove, we don’t have anything. Our children are in bad shape. We are all getting wet under the rain and our kids are out in the cold,” Aysan Kurt, 27, told the Associated Press. “We did not die from hunger or the earthquake, but we will die freezing from the cold.”
Many aid agencies and NGOs working in the region fear the death toll could increase substantially due to a lack of amenities for those who lost homes. “We are already receiving reports of casualties among children and the elderly falling ill and dying because of the cold,” Ahmed Mahmoud, Islamic Relief’s country director for Syria, told Middle East Eye. “People in tents are burning anything they can find. Some are accidentally setting their tents on fire or suffocating from the fumes they are burning to stay warm inside the tents.”
Rescue workers have not even been able to reach many destroyed towns in northern and northwestern Syria, which are under opposition control and surrounded by Russian-backed forces, in part because the roads to the one authorized border crossing checkpoint, Bab al-Hawa, have been heavily damaged. Two other checkpoints have remained closed for years due to Russia’s veto power on the U.N. Security Council, which supports Bashar al-Assad’s ruling government.
As such, no international aid is getting through despite volunteers from dozens of countries sending manpower and supplies. And Syria’s ruling government controls all aid sent to the rebel-held areas, which house some 4.6 million internally displaced people, now being served by the so-called White Helmet civilian defense forces who are stretched thin.
“The areas worst affected by the earthquake inside Syria look to be run by the Turkish-controlled opposition and not by the Syrian government,” Mark Lowcock, former head of United Nations humanitarian affairs. “It is going to require Turkish acquiescence to get aid into those areas. It is unlikely the Syrian government will do much to help.”