More than 70 rescue specialists and sniffer dogs to help with efforts after thousands killed in earthquake-hit region
UK aid will be sent to Turkey and Syria despite “very considerable strain” on the development budget, the cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell has said, after earthquakes killed thousands in the region.
Mitchell, who as a backbench MP opposed cuts to the aid budget, said there were specific funds allocated for major humanitarian disasters.
Hundreds of international rescue missions are en route to Turkey and Syria after a series of powerful earthquakes that have killed at least 4,800 people – with numbers expected to rise because of so many still trapped in rubble.
Support to Turkey has not yet left the UK, having been due to leave on Monday night. More than 70 rescue specialists and sniffer dogs will help with the efforts.
Speaking on Sky News, Mitchell, the minister for development, said: “The aid budget is under very considerable strain. But Britain always carves out a certain amount to cope with humanitarian crises. That is what people in Britain expect us to do. Britain is always there first and in strength to help when these appalling catastrophes take place. And we will be there this time.
“And the humanitarian budget is in a way slightly separate from the steady state international development budget, and it is there specifically to respond to crises like these. The humanitarian budget is very carefully coordinated and set and it reacts to the need on the ground.
“You could never tell at the beginning of the year what humanitarian crises are going to take place and therefore it has to be a flexible part of what we do.”
Mitchell said the first three days of the rescue effort would be the most critical. “Britain is sending 76 people who specialise in getting people out of the rubble and four sniffer dogs, and also an emergency response team,” he told GB News. “The critical thing in these circumstances is the first 72 hours. These significant British assets are waiting to leave Birmingham. They were ready to leave last night.
“It has to be coordinated with the Turkish authorities. I expect them to leave within the next couple of hours so that they land in daylight. And then this British expertise will be helping what is a huge, international effort to save lives.”
He added: “It’s being coordinated very professionally by the Turkish authorities. They were ready to leave last night. But my information is that they will be leaving imminently and of course they will be landing in daylight, and that is the time where they can be most effective.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned the death toll could rise to more than 20,000 people. Catherine Smallwood, the WHO’s senior emergency officer for Europe, said: “There’s continued potential of further collapses to happen so we do often see in the order of eightfold increases on the initial numbers.
“We always see the same thing with earthquakes, unfortunately, which is that the initial reports of the numbers of people who have died or who have been injured will increase quite significantly in the week that follows.”
Source: The Guardian