By Mia Jin Haagensli, MSc Politics of the Middle East
Where were you on the night of February 6, when two massive earthquakes measuring up to 7.5 and 7.8 on the Richter scale hit Turkey and Syria? Or when two additional earthquakes hit two weeks later, on February 20? Or when yet another devastating earthquake hit a week later, on the 27 February? The events of the last three weeks have brutally changed the lives of millions in Turkey, Syria and its surrounding areas as the region has seen its ´worst natural disaster in a century´.
The world was left in shock when the news of the massive twin earthquakes on the 6 February hit. Footage of collapsing buildings, civilians desperately running for their lives and families searching for their loved ones in the ruins of what used to be their homes abound the internet as the death toll continues to rise by the day. Turkey has declared a three-month state of emergency in the ten provinces affected by the enormous quakes that have so far claimed the lives of well over 46.000 people. The twin earthquakes turned out to be the beginning of a never-ending devastation as a series of reverberating aftershocks, as well as three additional earthquakes that followed. Two short weeks after the initial earthquakes hit, with rescuers still searching for people trapped under the rubble, two more followed, measuring 6.4 and 5.8, with the epicentre in the southern province of Hatay in Turkey. The earthquakes brought further devastation to a region still trying to recover from the quakes two weeks prior, with hundreds of aftershocks still rumbling. Adding to this environment of uncertainty was another quake hitting Yesilyurt in Malatya on Monday 27 February. In a region already ravaged by destruction, trauma and desperate conditions, fresh panic was sparked again.
As any earthquake between 5.8 and 7.8 on the Richter scale would, the quakes in Turkey and Syria have led to mass destruction and devastation. However, the region was especially ill-prepared for a disaster of such scale, and the earthquakes wound up particularly deadly. The staggering amount of deaths is the outcome of a number of factors. Not only did the strongest earthquakes happen during the night, trapping sleeping people inside their collapsing houses, the sturdiness of the buildings of vast parts of the region must also be taken into account. According to Mustafa Erdik from the Earthquake Research Institute in Istanbul, ‘one of the reasons why the number of casualties has been so high is the poor quality of the buildings’. Combined with the cities of the region being especially vulnerable to natural hazards resulting from the ´poorly supervised urban development´ from the rapid migration during the 1950s, this earthquake is ´one of the deadliest of this decade´. If we include war-torn Syria, ravaged with conflict, food insecurity, crumbling infrastructure and millions of internally displaced people in the equation as well, the reality becomes even darker.
“As a result of the Syrian Civil War, Turkey is the home of well over 3.5 million Syrian refugees, almost half of them children. In the Turkish provinces affected by the quakes, more than 1.7 million of the inhabitants are Syrian refugees.”
Because of its close proximity to Turkey and due to their shared border, Syria has suffered gravely at the hands of the last month´s earthquakes. After 12 years and counting of civil war, Syria is especially vulnerable when facing such catastrophes. The unfathomable quakes hit northwest Syria, an area in lack of a unified government, with an estimated 90% of its 4.6 million inhabitants being reliant on humanitarian assistance. As a result of the Syrian Civil War, Turkey is the home of well over 3.5 million Syrian refugees, almost half of them children. In the Turkish provinces affected by the quakes, more than 1.7 million of the inhabitants are Syrian refugees. In the province of Kilis, as much as one in every two people is Syrian. According to the UN, well over 9 million Syrians have been severely affected by the quakes, and the numbers increase by the day. The country is facing major power outages, a growing shortage of water, food, fuel and medicine, hospitals filled to the brink and freezing temperatures in the wake of a deadly cholera outbreak. The consequences of the disastrous earthquakes, in combination with the state of the country, are so severe they are at risk of ´wiping out the future generation of Syria´.
Amidst this seemingly unending devastation, there is a pressing need for the international community to fully engage in the recovery work necessary. The scope of this enormous disaster must be acknowledged everywhere, in the case of both Turkey and Syria, and a concrete plan going forward must be put to the pen. In the meantime, there are a number of organs, international and local, doing what they can to help. As the future of Turkey and Syria lies uncertain, any form of assistance towards the two countries is beneficial.
Photo Caption: The devastation seems to know no end as huge parts of Turkey and northwest Syria are almost completely flattened (Credit: Al-Jazeera).