World News Editor
On February 6th, 2023, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Turkey and Syria, leaving over 50,000 people dead, according to official reports from February 24th. In addition, thousands of buildings toppled over, leaving hundreds of thousands without shelter and in search of basic life necessities. Those without shelter faced freezing temperatures, rain, and snow. In Syria alone, the UN projected that 5.3 million people lost their homes and were without shelter. For Turkey, this is the deadliest earthquake the people have faced since 1939, when over 30,000 people died.
Those whose houses did manage to survive the quake were hesitant to return to their homes, fearing that they too would collapse in the following days. Instead, most people made shelters and fire out of rubble, attempting to stay warm in freezing conditions. The quake’s epicenter was located near the Turkish city of Gaziantep, home to 500,000 Syrian refugees. Nearly all of the city was left in ruins, as were many neighboring cities and towns, such as Antakya. Experts say that rebuilding these cities will take years, if not decades.
In parts of Turkey affected by the quake, a three-month state of emergency is in place, and tens of countries have sent humanitarian aid, setting up a healthcare system — something that was lacking immediately following the disaster. While sending rescue and recovery teams was a crucial step in helping both countries begin the path to recovery, the destruction of roads and highways leading to the most affected areas have delayed humanitarian aid. In Syria, several factors have slowed recovery efforts, including the ongoing civil war and the country’s foreign relationships; however, the UN has vowed to provide just under $400 million in aid and is leading the country’s recovery efforts, whether directly or through financial support. While some aid has reached Syria, many claim it is insufficient, and the country remains in desperate need of as many supplies and helpers as possible.
This earthquake and the government’s response have brought Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan into the spotlight. Despite severe infrastructure problems facing the country following the quake, Erdoğan announced that elections would occur in May, a month earlier than originally scheduled. Erdoğan is rumored to have made this announcement in an effort to complete elections as soon as possible, increasing his chances of another term; as the country mourns the loss of tens of thousands of citizens and begins to transform mourning into anger, Erdoğan’s chances of being re-elected might dwindle. Having elections sooner means Erdoğan is more likely to get ahead of scrutiny, raising his chances of serving longer.
Only time will tell how Syria and Turkey make it out of this natural disaster. This earthquake is one of the worst natural disasters of the century, but hopefully, in the coming years, infrastructure will be rebuilt, and both countries can recover.