An aid convoy has passed through a re-opened border crossing into rebel-held northwestern Syria, where help has been slow to arrive since last week’s earthquake.
As hopes fade of finding people alive under the debris more than 200 hours after the 7.8-magnitude quake struck, the focus has switched to providing food and shelter to the vast numbers of survivors. The death toll in the region surpassed 40,000 on Tuesday.
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The passage marked the first time a United Nations convoy has used the crossing to deliver aid since its closure in 2020.
Eleven International Organization for Migration trucks carrying humanitarian assistance passed through the Bab al-Salam crossing, the UN said.
Another 26 inter-agency trucks went through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, until now the only entry point for UN humanitarian aid to directly reach people in opposition-held northwestern Syria.
“UN cross-border aid is a lifeline,” UN humanitarian affairs chief Martin Griffiths wrote on Twitter.
The crossing had been closed for UN aid since 2020, under pressure at the UN Security Council from Syrian regime ally Russia, calling instead for all relief for the war-torn country to enter via government-controlled areas.
The convoy passed through a day after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad agreed to allow UN aid to enter from Turkey via two more border crossings, marking a shift for Damascus which has long opposed cross-border aid deliveries to the rebel enclave.
The delay in opening new crossings stalled immediate relief and search and rescue efforts when the “time for effective search and rescue is tragically running out,” the International Rescue Committee said in a statement.
UN launches appeal
Nearly nine million people in Syria were affected by the earthquake, the UN said, as it launched a $400m funding appeal to help the situation there.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the scale of the devastation caused by the magnitude-7.8 earthquake that ravaged southern Turkey and northwestern Syria on February 6 “is one of the worst in recent memory,” and “we all know that lifesaving aid has not been getting in at the speed and scale needed.”
He said the $397m will provide “desperately needed, life-saving relief for nearly 5 million Syrians — including shelter, health care, food and protection” for three months.
Guterres said the UN is in the final stages of preparing an emergency appeal for quake-ravaged southern Turkey.
He urged the international community to provide the emergency funding without delay, saying, “The human suffering from this epic natural disaster should not be made even worse by man-made obstacles — access, funding, supplies.”
Reporting from the UN in New York, Al Jazeera’s Kristen Saloomey said the UN would supply a range of basics but would need assistance from donors for search and rescue teams and heavy equipment.
“In addition to basic needs like food, shelter, medical supplied that are needed, the UN is going to provide pay checks for people to help with debris clean up and small construction projects. But the UN points out that it does not have any heavy equipment, or search and rescue teams and that it is dependent on other international donors for those needs to be met.”
Fears have grown for survivors on both sides of the border, with the UN saying more than seven million children have been adversely affected in Syria and Turkey, and noting fears that “many thousands” more had died.
“It is tragically clear that numbers will continue to grow,” said James Elder, spokesman for the UN children’s agency UNICEF, adding that the final toll would be “mind-boggling”.
With reporting by Al Jazeera’s Federica Marsi