U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the first aid convoy reached victims in northern Syria on Thursday, as he appealed for more access and funds to assist the millions affected by the earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria on Monday.
"Just hours ago, the first United Nations convoy crossed into northern Syria through Bab al-Hawa crossing," Guterres told reporters. "It included six trucks, carrying shelter and other desperately needed relief supplies. More help is on the way, but much more — much more — is needed."
Bab al-Hawa is the only crossing the United Nations is authorized to use to move humanitarian supplies from Turkey into areas outside of Syrian government control in the country's north. The road leading to the crossing on the Turkish side was damaged in the quake and only just reopened.
The U.N. chief said the organization is also ready to support Turkey's earthquake response in anyway it can.
Turkey has sheltered up to 3.6 million refugees from Syria's civil war, many of whom are now earthquake victims.
"A center of solidarity is now an epicenter of suffering," Guterres said. "People are facing nightmare on top of nightmare."
He urged the international community to help and said early next week the U.N. will launch a flash appeal to fund earthquake relief work in Syria for the next three months.
The secretary-general said his humanitarian and emergency relief chief Martin Griffiths is already in Turkey and will go to Gaziantep to assess needs. He will then continue to Aleppo and Damascus in Syria.
"We are sadly aware that we haven't yet seen the full extent of the damage and of the humanitarian crisis unfolding before our eyes," Guterres said, offering condolences for victims and solidarity with survivors.
The secretary-general said the United Nations has done its best "to race to respond."
The organization released $25 million on Tuesday from an emergency fund. It also has hundreds of local and international staff on the ground in the affected areas responding to the humanitarian crisis caused by the Syrian civil war. There are also some prepositioned relief supplies, but they will be quickly depleted because of the scale of the need.
The U.N. used to have permission from the Security Council to use three other crossing points from Turkey, Iraq and Jordan to enter Syria, but Russian moves in the council led to their gradual closing. Asked if he would seek more crossing points, Guterres said he would welcome it.
"This is the moment of unity, it's not the moment to politicize or to divide," he told reporters. "But it is obvious we need massive support, so I'd be, of course, very happy if the Security Council could reach consensus to allow for more crossings to be used. As we need also to increase our capacity to deliver on crossline operations into Idlib from Damascus."
The Damascus government prefers all aid go through the capital and has said earthquake response assistance should also be coordinated with them. The U.N. says moving aid across conflict frontlines is more complex, and in 2022, there were just nine such convoys. So far this year, there was one in January. Humanitarians say the two kinds of operations — cross-border and crossline — should complement each other.
"Roads are damaged. People are dying," the secretary-general said. "Now is the time to explore all possible avenues to get aid and personnel into all affected areas. We must put people first."