Earthquake strike Turkey and Syria
AT 4:17 a.m., an earthquake of 7.8 magnitudes is felt in southern Turkey and northern Syria. Twelve hours later, at least 2,400 people have died, with the rapid raising toll of death. This natural disaster could not have come at a worse time or affected a vulnerable region more than it has in southern Turkey and in northern Syria, which has been devastated by more than decades of war. When people were sleeping, suddenly the buildings collapsed and thousands of people buried at least 3,450 people in Turkey and thousands in Syria.
The disaster in Turkey is being described by the authorities as a war zone. At the same time, the effects of the earthquake and its equally powerful aftershocks on the Syrian side of the border are also devastating. For north-western Syria, this earthquake is like an emergency within an emergency and a crisis within a crisis.
The region was already home to one of the world’s most acute humanitarian crisis, with nearly three million internally displaced people (IDPs), almost all of whom depend entirely on foreign aid. After 12 years of brutal shelling by the Syrian government, at least 65 percent of the region’s infrastructure had already been destroyed or severely damaged, and medical and aid workers and organizations have been facing government attacks for years.
According to information, every village, town and city district has suffered of massive destruction. Thousands of civilians are believed to be trapped under the rubble many of whom can be heard screaming for help. Aid workers, anti-combatants and civilians are all desperately looking for help. Every major hospital or medical clinic is over capacity, patients are treated on the floor, in the hallways and outside in the freezing cold. About 100 bodies have been recovered in just one town and in the western countryside of Haleb.
Before the earthquake, IDP camps in northwest Syria were already over capacity, but the scale of the overnight destruction will inevitably see them grow. This would require a substantial expansion of the UN’s emergency humanitarian assistance mission, with an emphasis on shelter, food and health-care.
Amidst harsh winters, with Syria’s severe economic collapse and severe fuel shortage, it is hard to imagine a region that would be even more vulnerable and less positioned to deal with such a natural disaster. While the international community is mobilizing to mitigate the impact of Turkey’s disaster and provide basic humanitarian aid, the ability to do so for the most vulnerable areas of northern Syria is extremely limited and complex. After years of Russian vetoes and military and diplomatic pressure, the UN aid mission in the region is limited to just one border crossing with Turkey. Moreover, this UN effort is designed for humanitarian aid not for the disaster relief and emergency rescue.
Already, some activity along the border has been affected by the quake, with a long-standing arrangement between Turkish and Syrian opposition officials to transfer emergency medical cases to Turkish hospitals coming to an abrupt halt overnight. Syria’s well-known White Helmets, staffed by 3,000 volunteers, have been fully deployed, but are reportedly running out of diesel to run their heavy equipment. The earthquake also damaged UN aid facilities on the Turkish border.
It is unclear how well a major international disaster relief effort could take shape in north-western Syria. However, only concrete and immediate action by the United States and its allies will make anything possible. There is a question that the using of the existing UN assistance mission and Turkey’s facility platform would be able to develop and response on enormous scale that is required. The Syrian people have been abandoned and forgotten many times and for far too long. But now they cannot be left alone again.
—The writer, a PhD scholar, is associated with Islamia University Bahawalpur.
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