Over one million people in Aleppo have lost their homes due to the earthquake, with the most affected areas being those already devastated by the war. There are calls for sanctions to be lifted in order to provide greater aid, in line with the assistance given to Turkey. In this interview with Vatican News, Dr Emile Ketty, the director general of the Ar Arjaa Hospital In Aleppo, says there should be no second-class victims.
By Michele Raviart
Among the areas hardest hit by the earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria is Aleppo, in the north-west of the country, one of the cities most tormented by the war that has been ongoing since 2011. People continue to dig through the rubble in the old city, where WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus arrived on a mission yesterday. There is need for more aid, especially to deal with the large number of displaced persons. This was confirmed by Dr Emile Ketty, director general of the Al Arjaa – The Hope – hospital in Aleppo, which is engaged in relief work for the earthquake victims.
Doctor Ketty spoke with Vatican News about the situation in Aleppo:
Vatican news: What is the situation in the city?
Dr Emile Ketty: The situation in Aleppo is dire. The destruction is mainly in the centre and in the old city. The quake was really very strong. We still don’t have precise statistics on the number of dead, but we think there are about 300-350 victims in Aleppo city. The injured are around 1500-2000, but these are all provisional figures because there is still a lot of rubble and so more bodies or survivors could be found, but the more time passes the less likely. Many people have been left homeless, about one million, one and a half million in Aleppo and in the whole of Syria five and a half million – so it will be a human, medical and social drama, because churches, monasteries, mosques, and schools are now open for reception, and now the wound is still fresh and so there is a surge of solidarity from the people; but with time it will take more important structures and solutions, or international ones, to help these one and a half million people.
VN: You are working in Aleppo in a hospital. Who is coming? What are the biggest problems?
Dr Ketty: When the earthquake happened, those who immediately went to the front line were the state vehicles to remove the rubble, with ambulances. So it was immediately the two state hospitals in Aleppo that received a lot of people, especially for life-saving operations. We are in the new Aleppo, the buildings here are more solid, so the first few days people from the neighbourhood who fell down the stairs or in the street came, so they didn’t have the most serious maladies. Those who have already been through the emergency room and are then followed by private public hospitals like ours are starting to come to us. There are many children – about ten arrived today – and because the streets and tents are not heated, they have respiratory diseases – especially those who are one to three months old; or intestinal infections, due to the cold and malnutrition.
VN:This natural tragedy comes after more than ten years of war. How was the situation in the city before the earthquake?
Dr Ketty: The earthquake hit hardest in the area where there was already misery after ten years of war. After all this destruction, nature is also cruel to us. There has been a major aggravation of the city’s urban situation. But Aleppo is a big city and there is a part that has endured, but in the governmental part and in the old city, the destruction is important.
VN: What is the situation now? Are they still searching for survivors? Is there any hope?
Dr Ketty: The search continues. Now support has also come from Algeria, Lebanon, Iran, and Armenia. After ten years of embargo and sanctions, the means and machinery are not the latest, most sophisticated and fastest. But the search continues.
Let me remind you that there are no first-class and tenth-class victims! Victims are victims! The earthquake happened in Turkey, but we are 70 kilometres as the crow flies from the epicentre in Antioch. The whole world sent planes and ships to Turkey, and rightly so, but why do we let the same victims who are under the rubble a few kilometres away die because of sanctions? Is this human, is this moral?
VN: On a material level, what is most needed?
Dr Ketty: There is a need for medicines and material for emergency surgery. Children need milk and food and above all heating. Then mattresses, blankets and even heaters to put next to the mattress because it is really very cold now.