Over 5,000 people were confirmed dead on Tuesday after an earthquake and after-shocks hit Turkey, Syria and Kurdistan.
The 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck near Gaziantep in south Turkey, 30 miles from the Syrian border, on Monday. It was soon followed by a 7.5 magnitude quake less than 100 miles north at around 1.30pm local time.
The appalling death toll is certain to rise, despite desperate rescue attempts. In the Turkish southern province of Hatay, a resident told the Reuters news agency, “They’re calling out from beneath the rubble. They’re saying, ‘Save us,’ but we can’t save them. How are we going to save them? There has been nobody since the morning.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says 23 million people including 1.4 million children are likely to affected by the earthquake. This number is so large as Syrian people suffer poor infrastructure and ill-equipped emergency services as a result of the bloody civil war, fuelled by imperialist intervention, and a recent cholera outbreak.
WHO senior emergency officer, Adelheid Marschang said, “This is a crisis on top of multiple crises in the affected region. All over Syria, the needs are the highest after nearly 12 years of protracted, complex crisis, while humanitarian funding continues to decline.”
Before the earthquakes, the United Nations (UN) said over 70 percent of Syria’s population required aid—the highest level since the war began. Some 2.9 million were at risk of hunger and 12 million did not know where their next meal was coming from.
The north of Syria including the city of Aleppo is among the worst affected by both the war and earthquake. Bashar al-Assad’s regime has overseen the bombardment of homes, hospitals, schools and more.
The WHO’s senior emergency officer for Europe, Catherine Smallwood predicted that the death count could rise to over 20,000.
The earthquake was so large that the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre said shaking was felt in Egypt, Georgia, Greece, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine and Russia.
There would have been far fewer dead and injured, and far less destruction if all the resources of modern technology had been used to improve buildings in this earthquake zone.
Dr Carmen Solana, a reader in volcanology and risk communication at the University of Portsmouth, said, “The resistant infrastructure is unfortunately patchy in South Turkey and especially Syria, so saving lives now mostly relies on response.”
Dr Naci Gorur, one of Turkey’s top geologists, has frequently contrasted Japan and Turkey. He pointed out that only four people died from earthquake damage after a 7.4-magnitude quake in Fukushima in 2022. But 20,000 people died in the 1999 Marmara earthquake of the same magnitude in Turkey.
Seizing his chance to step up repression, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared a state of emergency for three months across ten provinces. It will continue until just before a general election scheduled for 14 May.
The emergency powers enable Erdogan to rule by decree, bypassing parliament and regional authorities run by opposition parties. The measures can also curtail fundamental rights
Governments across the world will claim to be sending full support, but it will be held back by budget cuts. And border regimes will also block refugees.
Charities working in the region say refugee numbers are expected to soar. But if they flee the area, almost all will be pushed back at the borders and forced to endure dangerous journeys in order to reach safety.
For tens of thousands of people, the horrors of the earthquake have only just begun.
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