THURSDAY, FEB 09, 2023 – 02:45 AM

Health authorities working in Turkey announced Wednesday that the death toll from Monday’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake and its aftershocks has soared past 22,000 dead – but more casualties are expected given rescue teams still haven’t accessed possibly hundreds or thousands more believed buried under the rubble. 

Additionally, vast swathes of deeply impacted northern Syria still have yet to receive any emergency aid. “Where are the tents, where are food trucks?” one 64-year old woman identified as Melek in Antakya said. She said she’d yet to see any rescue teams in her part of southern Turkey, near Syria. “We survived the earthquake, but we will die here due to hunger or cold here.”

Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed that no one will “be left in the streets” during a Wednesday visit a “tent city” in Kahramanmaras. He admitted relief efforts have been slow, but still defended his administration’s response.

“The death toll from the huge earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria has risen to nearly 11,500, as rescuers continued to pull survivors from the freezing rubble and the Turkish president rejected growing criticism of the authorities’ response,” The Guardian wrote of his visit to the disaster zone.

The publication suggested that by week’s end the number of dead could surpass 20,000. “Experts have predicted the combined tally will rise further, perhaps to more than double, as hundreds of collapsed buildings in many cities have become tombs for people who were asleep when the first quake hit in the early morning,” according to The Guardian.

An eyewitness in Hatay told AFP: “They are trapped under the ruins and there is no sign of life. We can’t reach them. We are trying to talk to them, but they are not responding … We are waiting for help. It has been 48 hours now.”

Meanwhile, inside Syria not only has Idlib been devastated, but buildings collapsed in Latakia and Aleppo as well, and the quakes were felt as far south as Damascus. But amid talk in the West of putting together an urgent humanitarian response, West-sanctioned Syria is apparently being bypassed and largely forgotten about.

Washington has at the same time shown no interest in living sanctions on Syria for the sake of humanitarian aid getting in at a faster pace.

According to journalists who earlier in the week approached the State Department

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday that the US would work with NGOs in the country but wouldn’t engage with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He didn’t give any indication that the US would lift sanctions on Syria.

When asked by if the Biden administration was considering lifting sanctions, the State Department referred to Price’s comments about working with NGOs. “In Turkey, we have a partner in the government; in Syria, we have a partner in the form of NGOs on the ground who are providing humanitarian support,” Price said.

When pressed on why the US wouldn’t engage with Damascus, Price said it “would be quite ironic, if not even counterproductive, for us to reach out to a government that has brutalized its people over the course of a dozen years now.”

And yet the suffering and devastation seen across southern Turkey is the same just over the border, in Syria. The Biden administration has long confirmed that it is blocking reconstruction of Syria after a decade of war via its sanctions regimen – all the while claiming to be “helping” the “Syrian people”. Now their suffering will be compounded after the deadly quakes, and with little relief in sight.