Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan acknowledged “shortcomings” in his government’s response to the massive earthquake that killed over 16,000 people in Turkey and Syria on Wednesday.
At least 15,000 people have been confirmed dead in Turkey and northern Syria. Critics claimed that the emergency services responded too slowly and that the government was unprepared.
Mr. Erdogan acknowledged that the government had encountered some difficulties, but claimed that the situation had been brought under control.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of Turkey’s main opposition party, disagreed. “If there is one person to blame, it is Erdogan,” he said.
The president denied the charge and stated that unity was required in the aftermath of the disaster. “In this period, I cannot stomach people running negative campaigns for political gain,” he told reporters in Hatay.
Thousands of survivors have spent a third night in freezing temperatures, with many trapped beneath the rubble losing hope.
A World Health Organization official has warned that freezing temperatures could cause significant injuries among earthquake survivors.
“We have a lot of people who have survived now out in the open, in worsening and horrific conditions,” WHO earthquake response incident manager Robert Holden said on Wednesday.
“We are in real danger of witnessing a secondary disaster that may cause more harm than the initial disaster if we do not move with the same speed and intensity as we are on the search and rescue.”
Relief efforts in neighboring Syria have been complicated by years of conflict that have destroyed the country’s infrastructure.
Because of the damage to the roads, the Bab al-Hawa crossing between Turkey and Syria has been closed since the earthquake.
While a senior United Nations official said the road could be open soon, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the country was working to open two more border gates to help get aid into the country.
“There are some obstacles to Turkey’s and the international community’s assistance [reaching Syria]. As a result, efforts are being made to open two additional border gates “He stated.
The EU has confirmed that it will send €3.5 million (£3.1 million) in aid to Syria in response to a government request, but that the aid must be delivered to both government and rebel-controlled areas.
More than 1,500 people have died in Idlib province alone, and a senior adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said that sanctions are preventing Syria from receiving needed aid.
“We don’t have enough bulldozers, cranes, or oil as a result of European and American sanctions,” Bouthaina Shabban explained.