Rescue teams began winding down the search for survivors on Monday as the focus switched to tackling a dire humanitarian disaster caused by the earthquake that has left more than 35,000 dead in Turkey and Syria.
Syria, already wracked by 12 years of civil war, is of particular concern. The United Nations held an emergency meeting Monday on how to boost aid to rebel-held areas, as anger grows over a sluggish international response to the pariah nation.
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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, isolated and subject to Western sanctions, called for international assistance to help rebuild infrastructure in the country, where the UN estimates more than five million have been left homeless.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Assad has agreed to open two more border crossings — Bab Al-Salam and Al Raee from Türkey to northwest Syria — to allow in aid.
Before the earthquake struck, almost all of the crucial humanitarian aid for the more than four million people living in rebel-controlled areas of northwestern Syria was being delivered from Turkey through one conduit — the Bab al-Hawa crossing.
“Opening these crossing points — along with facilitating humanitarian access, accelerating visa approvals and easing travel between hubs — will allow more aid to go in, faster,” Guterres said.
Seven days after the 7.8-magnitude tremor sent buildings crumbling across the region, stories continue to emerge of people found alive in the rubble, but experts warn that hopes of survival are dimming.
In Turkey on Monday, siblings Harun, 8, and Eyuphan, 15, were rescued 181 hours after the fifth-deadliest earthquake of the 21st century, the Andadolu news agency reported.
The confirmed death toll stands at 35,331 as officials and medics said 31,643 people had died in Turkey and at least 3,688 in Syria.
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Survivors face a lack of water and poor sanitation. In Turkey’s southern Adiyaman an outbreak of scabies — a skin disease known to spread in crowded areas — is affecting adults, while children are suffering from diarrhoea, local media reported.
Serkan Tatoglu, 41, a father of four, described how his family is haunted by their losses as they wait out the aftershocks in a tent city near the quake’s epicentre in southern Kahramanmaras.
“The youngest, traumatised by the aftershocks, keeps asking: ‘Dad, are we going to die?'” Tatoglu said of his six-year-old.
Turkey’s Vice President Fuat Oktay said 574 children pulled from collapsed buildings were found without any surviving parents. Only 76 had been returned to other family members.
Hatice Goz, a volunteer psychologist in Turkey’s Hatay province, said she has been fielding a barrage of calls from frantic parents looking for missing children.