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Children rescued from ruins as Turkey-Syria quake toll nears 24,000

Rescue crews have saved a 10-day-old baby and his mother trapped under a toppled building in Turkey and dug several people, including children, out from other sites as the death toll from the devastating Turkey-Syria earthquake approached 24,000.

Officials and medics said on Friday 20,213 people had died in Turkey and 3,553 in Syria. The confirmed total now stands at 23,766. Many more people remain under the rubble.

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said authorities should have reacted faster to this week’s huge earthquake.

“Although we have the largest search and rescue team in the world right now, it is a reality that search efforts are not as fast as we wanted them to be,” Erdogan said on Friday.

Erdogan had previously admitted that the initial response after the earthquake was slow due to adverse weather conditions, damaged roads, and the large area that affected the country’s 10 provinces.

Some residents of the region have complained that there were no aid workers in their area in the critical hours after the earthquake, a charge that politicians, opposed to Erdogan’s government, blamed.

However, Erdogan further said that the search and rescue operation continues with the joining of teams from all over the world.

Speaking in the earthquake-hit Adiyaman province, he also said that looting of shops had taken place in some areas, adding that the state of emergency declared in the area would allow the state authorities to take the necessary punishments.

Erdogan also said after visiting displaced people sheltering in tents, if people choose to move out of the affected cities, the government will pay their rent for one year.

Syrian state media also announced on Friday that the Syrian government has approved humanitarian aid to all war-torn areas of the country, a move that could speed up the arrival of aid to millions of people affected by Monday’s deadly earthquake.

The said distribution of aid will be done in cooperation with the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the Syrian Red Crescent to ensure that the aid reaches those who need it.

Also, the Syrian government has declared Lattakia, Hama, Aleppo, and Idlib as the most affected areas by the earthquake and will create a rehabilitation fund.

The Turkey-Syria border is one of the world’s most active earthquake zones. Monday’s quake was the largest Turkey has seen since 1939, when 33,000 people died in eastern Erzincan province. In 1999, a 7.4 magnitude earthquake killed more than 17,000.

The United Nations World Food Program committed $77 million on Friday to provide food rations and hot meals to 874,000 people affected by the deadly earthquake in Syria and Turkey.

The number in need of aid “includes 284,000 newly displaced people in Syria and 590,000 people in Turkey, which includes 45,000 refugees and 545,000 internally displaced people”, the Rome-based organization said in a statement.

In the first four days since deadly earthquakes struck the region, WFP has delivered food assistance to 115,000 people in Syria and Turkey.

“We’re providing mainly hot meals, ready-to-eat food rations, and family food packages — things that require no cooking facilities and can be consumed immediately,” said Corinne Fleischer, the WFP’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“For the thousands of people affected by the earthquakes, food is one of the top needs right now and our priority is to get it to the people who need it fast.”

WFP has announced that despite the difficulties in getting food in Syria, which has been devastated by the conflict, it has so far delivered food to 43 thousand people in the country.

Thanks to stockpiles inside the country, the agency said ready-to-eat rations are available for 100,000 people, and other rations that require cooking facilities for 1.4 million people for a month.

Meanwhile, the United Nations said on Friday that it was rapidly depleting the stockpile it had in Syria ahead of the devastating earthquake and needed quick resupply to support the millions affected.

The Bab al-Hawa crossing from Turkey is currently the only way UN aid can reach civilians in war-torn Syria. This is while Syria is under severe international sanctions.

The United Nations has called for politics to be stripped out of the disaster response to facilitate aid delivery.

Katrina Bohme, from the World Health Organization headquarters team, said that no obstacle to help the victims is acceptable.

“We need to ensure access to assistance and health care for all those in need. Collectively as the UN, we will be measured on whether we can enable this,” she told a briefing in Geneva.

UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, had 30,000 so-called relief items – mattresses, blankets, kitchen sets, plastic sheets, jerry cans and sleeping mats – and 20,000 tents already in Syria before the earthquake.

“We have been distributing them since day one,” said Sivanka Dhanapala, the UNHCR representative in the country. “A lot of this is being sent out and now needs to be replenished as quickly as possible,” he said via video link.

The UN Human Rights Secretary-General also called for an immediate ceasefire in Syria on Friday in order to facilitate the delivery of aid to all the victims of the devastating earthquake in the region.

“UN human rights chief Volker Turk calls for an immediate ceasefire in Syria, and full respect for human rights and humanitarian law obligations so help can reach everyone,” the UN rights office said in a tweet.

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