NATO Chief Pledges Support for Earthquake-Hit Turkey


NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg was in the Turkish capital, Ankara, Thursday in a show of solidarity following last week’s earthquake that devastated parts of Turkey and Syria.

Speaking alongside Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Stoltenberg told reporters that NATO stands with Turkey, a NATO member, in its time of need.

“We salute the courage of the Turkish first responders and we mourn with you,” Stoltenberg said.

He said the alliance’s focus now will be on reconstruction and supporting those displaced by the earthquake. Specific efforts he mentioned were setting up temporary housing and using NATO strategic airlift capabilities to bring in thousands of tents to Turkey.

In New York on Thursday, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed to the world to contribute to a $1 billion humanitarian relief fund for Turkey to cover earthquake assistance for 5.2 million people over the next three months.

“Now is the time for the world to support the people of Turkey — just as they have stood in solidarity with others seeking assistance,” Guterres said. “The needs are enormous; people are suffering and there’s no time to lose.”

The Turkish government says more than 9 million people have been directly affected by the quake in 11 provinces.

Turkey’s emergency management agency reported Thursday the country’s death toll rose to 36,187 people, with 108,000 others injured. The agency said more than 4,300 aftershocks have hit the area since the massive February 6 earthquake.

Meanwhile, more than 5,500 deaths have been confirmed in neighboring Syria, according to figures compiled by the United Nations humanitarian agency and Syria’s state-run news agency.

Millions of people who survived the quake need humanitarian aid, authorities say, with many survivors left homeless in near-freezing winter temperatures. Rescues are now few and far between.

With much of the region's sanitation infrastructure damaged or rendered inoperable by the earthquakes, health authorities are facing a daunting task in trying to ensure that people now remain disease-free.

In addition to the $1 billion the U.N. appealed for on Thursday for Turkey, the secretary-general has asked the international community to contribute nearly $400 million to the earthquake response in Syria. That would assist around 5 million people. The U.N. and NGO community already have an established aid infrastructure in Syria because of the 12-year-long civil war. This year, the U.N. has asked for $4.8 billion to go toward pre-earthquake needs.

Since the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad agreed on Monday to allow the U.N. to use two additional crossing points from Turkey into opposition-held areas of the country’s northwest, aid has started rolling in.

On Thursday, 22 trucks from the World Food Program and the U.N. refugee agency entered the northwest through the Bab al-Hawa crossing point. An additional two trucks with tents from UNHCR came through the newly reopened Bab al-Salam crossing. In all, 141 supply trucks have reached the area, which was heavily damaged by the earthquake.

“In northwest Syria, shelter needs are the top priority among displaced people,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters. He said nearly 9,000 buildings have either been badly damaged or destroyed, leaving thousands homeless.

Source: Voice of America