The earthquakes that struck Turkey were among some of the deadliest and most devastating in recent years, but why was it so severe?
A 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Turkey in the early hours of February 6th, with the epicenter in the Pazarcik district of Kahramanmaras province. The quake affected many of the neighboring provinces, including northwestern Syria.
9 hours later, a second earthquake hit further north with a 7.5 magnitude. On the 20th of February, the area was struck by a third earthquake, measuring 6.4 magnitudes. After three major earthquakes, Turkey and Syria are dealing with serious damage, destruction, and death.
As of 1 March 2023, the death toll has now passed 51,800.
45,000 deaths have been recorded in Turkey alone, with a further 6,700 deaths in Syria. Many of the deaths are among Syrian refugees. Reports show that almost 30 million people have been affected, including over 100,000 people who have been injured across the two countries.
"We need help. We need the international community to do something, to help us, to support us. North-western Syria is now a disaster area. We need help from everyone to save our people." - Ismail Al Abdullah
What caused the earthquake?
The Earth's crust is composed of continually shifting tectonic plates. Friction resulting from the movement of plates against other plates generates pressure and causes the surface to shift, or break. This shift changes the Earth’s surface in a multitude of ways depending on the direction of the movement.
For this particular string of earthquakes, the Arabic plate pushed the area of Turkey northwards towards the Eurasian plate. For Turkey to escape the pressure, it slipped underneath Crete in a subduction zone, causing an earthquake.
This is the first major string of earthquakes to hit Turkey in over 80 years, however, Turkey sits above what is considered a highly active tectonic area. The major problem that Turkey deals with is that many of the buildings in that region are not built to withstand such dramatic earthquakes, which leads to greater destruction.
The earthquake-affected areas are among Turkey's worst poverty rates and are home to more than 1.7 million Syrian refugees. It is already considered a vulnerable area without the devastating impacts of a major earthquake. It is currently too early to assess the extent of the damage, however, it is estimated that over 170,000 buildings have been destroyed, leaving millions of people homeless and without shelter during freezing temperatures. Along with building damage, transport infrastructure, and water levels have been heavily affected. Turkey is a prominent international link for transport, connecting Asia to Europe. Railway lines, bridges, and tunnels have been destroyed and are deemed unusable.
The port of Iskenderun, an important freight port in southern Turkey, has suspended all action following an explosion and a fire caused by the aftermath of the earthquake. This not only affects the infrastructure of the region but also affects the country's revenue. Regional analysts are currently focusing on the long-term crippling effect that this catastrophic event will have on the already existing economic problems of the country.
Is anyone to blame for the destruction?
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been blamed for failing to prepare the residents of Turkey and for the scale of the devastation. Even newly built buildings were not able to withstand the conditions and people are starting to ask why.
Erdogan has hit back at comments by claiming that it is "not possible" to be prepared for such a big disaster and that any country in the world would have been heavily affected by such a high-magnitude quake.
Some claim that with better building standards, the number of fatalities could have been significantly reduced. Geologists claim that they have been repeatedly ignored regarding their concerns about tectonic activity.
Residents claim that the rescue mission was heavily delayed, and they had no help till 12 hours after the first earthquake. The residents had to take it upon themselves to rescue others without professional help, putting themselves at further risk. Erdogan blames delays on closed roads and damages.
As a result of the Syrian regime's insufficient preparation, Syria Civil Defence is only assisting 5% of the affected communities in northern Syria. This is connected with the manner in which government services are handled in Syria.
The earthquake's effect on the Bab Al-Hawa border crossing rendered it impassable, preventing UN aid from being adequately received from Turkey. The Assad administration has a history of preventing deliveries to non-regime parts of Syria.
How is Syria dealing with the disaster?
“The areas worst affected by the earthquake inside Syria look to be run by the Turkish-controlled opposition and not by the Syrian government, it is going to require Turkish acquiescence to get aid into those areas. It is unlikely the Syrian government will do much to help.” - Mark Lowcock
After a 12-year civil war, Syria is extremely unprepared to deal with a disaster like this earthquake. The country is already dealing with food shortages, economic collapse, a recent cholera outbreak, and further conflict.
The country's infrastructure has been severely depleted for years, and a significant portion of the population is already homeless. The conditions of North Syria were already dire before the disaster of a major earthquake.
More than 4 million people in north-west Syria, close to the Turkey border, are living in refugee camps and depend on cross-border aid to survive day-to-day. The United Nations claims that prior to the earthquake, 70% of the population needed aid, which was larger than at any time before the war.
Additionally, the UN estimates a total of 90% of the population is living in poverty following the effects of the war, and other contributing factors such as the Covid pandemic, financial crash, and drought. The population was already suffering, but the earthquake added even more to the suffering.
What happens now?
Many people across the world are coming together to show their support for the victims and survivors of the earthquake. Balloons have been released in one of the affected areas of Hatay by volunteers to honor the fallen.
Besiktas fans threw stuffed toys onto a pitch during a football match to raise money for children affected. During the match, at 4 minutes and 17 seconds, the match was paused to commemorate those affected, which also marks the time of the first earthquake, at 4:17 AM.
There have been many appeals to fundraise money to help with food, water, and medical supplies, but this is only the beginning. It is estimated the earthquake has caused $34.2 billion worth of damage throughout the region. It will take an extended period of time to rebuild the communities, and they need all the help they can get.
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Rachel Brown is an English Literature and Creative Writing student at Keele University. She is also a content writer at the International Youths Organization for Peace and Sustainability.
Inputs and Edits by Sovena Ngeth.