UN official in Syria says ‘crisis within crisis’ is also hampering aid delivery.
More than five million Syrians could be left homeless after devastating earthquakes hit the country and its neighbor Turkey on Monday, according to a United Nations official.
“As many as 5.3 million people in Syria may have been left homeless by the earthquake,” Sivanka Dhanapala, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative for Syria, said on Friday. “That’s a huge number and it applies to a population that is already suffering from mass displacement.”
“For Syria, this is a crisis within a crisis,” he added, “We’ve had economic shocks, COVID and now we’re in the dead of winter, with blizzards raging in the affected areas.”
Survivors of earthquakes measuring 7.8 and 7.6 on the Richter scale have flocked to camps for people displaced from other parts of Syria after nearly 12 years of war. Many have lost their homes or are too scared to return to damaged buildings.
Around 24,000 people have already died across Turkey and Syria from the earthquake – more than 3,300 in Syria.
Dhanapala said UNHCR was “rushing to help” hard-hit parts of Syria, but “it was very, very difficult.”
“There are already 6.8 million internally displaced persons in the country. And that was before the earthquake.”
Meanwhile, a second UN aid convoy of 14 trucks has crossed into rebel-held areas of Syria – after the first six vehicles entered on Thursday.
The Syrian government has said it will allow aid deliveries to rebel areas outside its control, in cooperation with the UN and humanitarian organizations.
“The full extent of the destruction in Syria is just beginning to emerge,” said Al Jazeera reporter Kristen Saloomey, reporting from the UN in New York.
Although more aid convoys are passing through one authorized border point into the worst-hit areas, our correspondent says critics argue it is too little, too late.
“Most [people made homeless from the quake are] in areas not controlled by the Syrian government, where people have already been displaced by years of war,” she said.
On Friday, the UN also released another $25 million in emergency funding for Syria, bringing the total so far to $50 million, Saloomey said, “but an assessment team is now on the ground and the needs are expected to significantly exceed that amount.” .
The conflict in Syria began in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on peaceful protests and has escalated to involve foreign powers and armed groups.
Nearly half a million people were killed and the conflict forced about half of the country’s pre-war population to flee their homes, with many seeking refuge in Turkey.