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The United Nations expands its humanitarian aid to northwestern Syria after the earthquakes


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A senior official said on Thursday that the United Nations plans to expand its humanitarian aid delivery into opposition-held northwest Syria to help the millions of people affected by the Feb. 6 earthquake that devastated the region.

But Muhannad Hadi, the regional coordinator for humanitarian affairs at the Global Organization for the Syrian Crisis, said the planned increase in aid trucks to 40 per day was still not enough to address the humanitarian crisis in the area, with medical supplies to fight disease, as well as more food. And temporary shelters, they are badly needed.

Hadi told Reuters that more than 280 trucks have crossed the Turkish border into northwest Syria since relief operations resumed on Feb. 9, three days after the quake, following a disruption caused by damage to the highway.

The northwest, which is held by opposition groups in the war with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and where 90% of the population of more than 4 million were already dependent on aid for basic needs, has been the hardest hit in Syria.

The United Nations says the disaster has killed more than 4,500 people there.

“We hope to get 40 trucks very soon this week, which is double what we were offering before the earthquake as more resources become available,” Hadi said.

The increase in aid is linked to the opening of additional crossings from Turkey into opposition-held Syria: among them is Bab al-Hawa, already in use under a UN Security Council mandate. Assad gave exceptional permission to open two more for three months.

Bashar al-Assad regime officials have also given blanket authorization — rather than case-by-case approvals — for the same period for cross-line deliveries from government-held areas to the northwest.

But the United Nations and other aid groups say hardline forces there have blocked such deliveries, while other aid agencies complain about security restrictions imposed by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which they say politicize aid distribution.

Hadi said much-needed aid flows through these routes will increase further once the UN is allowed access by all parties.

“We have goods in areas controlled by the regime, we have warehouses… and when you have people in need you need to think about efficiency and effectiveness. It’s not about politics. We need access from all directions,” he said.

The crisis could lead to a resurgence of waterborne diseases associated with widespread damage to infrastructure. “After the earthquake, we started discovering suspected cases of cholera and deaths that could be related to cholera,” Hadi noted.

He said that while the worst of the destruction inside Syria was concentrated in the northwest, some 8.8 million across the country have been affected, and on their behalf, donors need to respond quickly to a $400 million funding appeal.

That was on top of another $4.8 billion that was already needed across Syria for this year.

“If we don’t get quick funding, if we can’t replenish stocks, we will face a difficult situation,” Hadi said.

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