WHO ‘moving rapidly’ with Syria quake relief as sanctions are paused

GENEVA (Reuters): The World Health Organization said on Wednesday it was taking advantage of a temporary easing of sanctions against Syria designed to allow humanitarian aid to be more easily distributed in the war-torn country after deadly earthquakes.

“WHO is moving very rapidly right now together with our partners to take advantage of this pause in the sanctions,” Rick Brennan, Regional Emergency Director of the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region, told a briefing.

“We have already started ordering equipment and supplies, and we are working with UN partners on a collective approach to take advantage of the pause.”

Around 4,525 deaths have been reported in northwest Syria, according to the United Nations. The area is controlled by insurgents at war with President Bashar al-Assad, which is complicating aid efforts.

With the devastating earthquake, there has also been a threat of the risk of infections in the rebel-held region in northwestern Syria.

WHO officials said the organisation has scaled up its supply of antibiotics, painkillers, trauma supplies and non-communicable disease medicines to the country, with a key focus on the northwest region.

The agency has re-established its distribution channels within Syria, and has moved over 139 tonnes of additional medical supplies including antibiotics, and other surgical supplies to affected areas, said Catherine Smallwood, WHO’s senior emergency officer for Europe.

WHO officials also said they are working to ensure better water and sanitation in northwest Syria, with 1.7 million doses of oral cholera vaccines on hand that they plan to target to the most vulnerable communities by first week of March.