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Syria is facing double-disaster, warns UN food agency

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UNITED NATIONS: Syria faces a double disaster as the areas hardest hit by this month’s earthquake had already been destroyed in 12 years of unrelenting conflict, warned David Beasley, who heads the World Food Programme (WFP), after returning to New York from the devastated regions of Syria and Turkiye on Saturday.

“The impact of this quake will be felt for months and years to come.”

He urged authorities in both countries to open more border crossings to help survivors of the earthquakes that hit the region on Feb 6. The WFP chief described the situation in Syria as a “catastrophe on top of a catastrophe”, pointing out that the earthquake followed 12 years of unrelenting conflict.

“The areas hardest hit lack the capacity and infrastructure to deal with the impact of a disaster of this magnitude,” a UN report said.

The WFP’s trucks are providing life-saving supplies to non-government-controlled areas of north-western Syria, but border restrictions limit their access. “Food assistance must get to the people of north-western Syria from all sides, through all routes, without any restrictions,” Mr. Beasley said. “Our trucks are rolling, and this food and other supplies will literally save thousands and thousands of lives.”

A UN video showed Mr Beasley watching a 21-truck convoy carrying 380 tonnes of food into Syria.

Since the border crossing reopened on Feb 13, WFP has supported the crossing of 180 trucks into the northwest. The agency has reached more than 2.3 million affected people across both Syria and Turkiye, but the WFP chief warned that the need was much greater.

Mr Beasley said that during a visit to the Hatay region, in southern Türkiye, he witnessed an “apocalyptic” landscape caused by “incomprehensible” devastation.

With some 18m people affected across southern Türkiye and north-western Syria, tens of thousands of lives have been lost, and millions upon millions of people have lost their homes, livelihood, and assets, he added.

“While the world has quickly mobilised in support of people here, the impact of this quake will be felt for months and years to come,” he warned.

Ghost town

Mr Beasley said that the Turkish town of Antakya, which suffered significant deaths and massive destruction, was now “almost a ghost town”, with homes, schools, shops, and critical infrastructure damaged and destroyed.

“There is only one way to describe what I saw: apocalyptic,” he said. “Entire neighbourhoods have been flattened, homes destroyed, schools and shops closed, lives torn apart. The scale of devastation here is truly incomprehensible.”

A WFP donation appeal says that the agency requires about $80m for emergency relief in Türkiye alone while $150m is needed to support for six months 800,000 people affected in Syria.

Another $300m is required to maintain WFP’s food assistance programme across all of Syria for 5.5m people every month.

“If this is not received, the UN food programme will be forced to suspend its assistance to 3.8m Syrians within months,” WFP warned.

Published in Dawn, February 27th, 2023


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