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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Shortages of shelter and medical supplies pose dangers to quake survivors

Men watch construction vehicles remove the rubble in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, Feb. 13, 2023.

By Gulsin Harman, Hwaida Saad and Jenny Gross

One week after a powerful earthquake struck Turkey and Syria, a severe shortage of tents, housing and medical supplies is imperiling relief efforts and posing new dangers to survivors, many of them injured or living outdoors in extreme cold.

The death toll for both countries surpassed 35,000 on Monday, with more than 1 million people in Turkey alone left homeless, according to the Turkish government.

One of the most urgent needs was temporary shelter for homeless people in Turkey, which is in short supply. The Turkish Red Crescent, a humanitarian organization, said it was speeding up the production of tents to house those displaced after Turkish news media reported a shortage of temporary housing and poor sanitary conditions for homeless people.

While aid is flowing into Turkey, relatively little has reached opposition-held parts of northern Syria because of political divisions on the ground after years of civil war. And much of the aid that did go in to Syria did not always contain the most urgently needed supplies, such as food. Inside Turkey, damaged roads in the quake zone and closed airports over the past week in some areas have also slowed the flow of aid.

As President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey came under criticism for his government’s response to the earthquake, the country’s deadliest since 1939, Turkish officials Monday detained more property developers and others suspected of having a hand in shoddy construction that violated existing building codes, according to the state-run Anadolu News Agency. Experts have said that poor construction most likely exacerbated the deadliness of the earthquake.

One of the latest people to be detained was Ibrahim Mustafa Uncuoglu, a contractor of a collapsed building in the southern city of Gaziantep, Anadolu reported. Bekir Bozdag, Turkey’s justice minister, said Sunday that legal proceedings against more than 130 people were underway over their apparent ties to collapsed buildings.

Separately, Turkish police said in a statement on Twitter on Monday that authorities had detained 56 people and arrested 14 of them, without specifying charges, on accusations that they spread disinformation about the earthquake.

The death tolls in Turkey, where more than 31,600 people have died, and in northwestern Syria, where more than 3,500 people have died, have been steadily climbing ever since the 7.8-magnitude quake struck a week ago. Hospitals, lacking sufficient medical supplies, have struggled to care for the large numbers of people requiring urgent help.

An anonymous Pakistani donor who walked into the Turkish Embassy in the United States gave $30 million for earthquake victims, according to Shehbaz Sharif, the prime minister of Pakistan, who said Sunday on Twitter that he was “deeply moved” by the contribution.

“These are such glorious acts of philanthropy that enable humanity to triumph over the seemingly insurmountable odds,” Sharif wrote.

The earthquake zone in Syria includes areas controlled by the government and other areas held by opposition forces backed by Turkey.

The government-held parts of Syria have received air shipments including food, medical equipment and fuel from the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Iran and Russia, according to the state-run Syrian news agency SANA.

The Syrian government has tightly controlled what aid it allows into opposition-held areas, and Bab al-Hawa, the only border crossing between Turkey and Syria approved by the United Nations for transporting international aid into northwestern Syria, has been a lifeline for opposition-held areas in the north.

The United Nations said it had approval from the government of Bashar Assad, the authoritarian president of Syria, to send aid convoys into opposition-held areas in northwest Syria, where about 4 million people were almost completely dependent on international aid even before the quake struck. But the U.N. said it was still negotiating with opposition groups for additional clearance needed to send the aid.

Over the past week, the U.N. has sent 52 trucks, with materials including blankets and medical equipment, across the border to Syria from Turkey, and at least six more trucks were sent to Syria on Monday.

Recovery efforts have been stymied by lack of machinery and vehicles and by lack of fuel, as well as aftershocks, which are reportedly continuing in northwestern Syria and forcing people to flee their homes, the United Nations said.

Mazen Aloush, a spokesperson for Turkish-backed opposition groups on the Syrian side of the border crossing, said food aid has not yet reached Syria from Turkey. “The only aid we received in the past days until this moment are tents, equipment, blankets and detergents and mattresses,” he said.

In Turkey, heavy damage to the Port of Iskenderun, a key point for getting supplies to Turkey and Syria, was also hampering efforts to get the necessary supplies to earthquake victims, said Murat Aymelek, an assistant professor in marine engineering at Iskenderun Technical University

More than 238,000 people from national and international crews are assisting with relief efforts, Turkey’s national emergency management agency, AFAD, said Monday. Even as teams were winding down their operations and focusing on removing debris and recovering bodies, there were occasional stories of people still being pulled alive from the rubble.

A team that included members of the Istanbul Fire Department rescued a woman who had been underneath rubble for 175 hours, Ekrem Imamoglu, Istanbul’s mayor, tweeted Monday.

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