26 Million People Affected By Earthquakes in Turkey and Syria
Powerful earthquakes and aftershocks struck southern Turkey and northern Syria on the 6th and 20th of February, 2023.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 26 million people need humanitarian assistance. The death toll is climbing above 50,000 and is expected to rise as many victims remain missing.
Furthermore, the WHO calls the Turkey-Syria earthquakes the “worst natural disaster” in the region in 100 years.
Turkey-Syria Earthquake: What Happened?
On February 6th 2023, the first earthquake hit southeastern Turkey and the northern Syrian border, measuring a magnitude of 7.7. Within minutes entire cities turned into rubble. Following this, a second earthquake measuring a magnitude of 7.6 hit the same region a little later.
Two weeks later, on February 20th, another earthquake of 6.4 magnitudes struck the same border area previously hit. Moreover, there have been more than 9,000 aftershocks recorded since.
The Aftermath of the Turkey-Syria Earthquakes
These earthquakes caused immeasurable devastation for an estimated 26 million people damaging and destroying homes and infrastructure, including approximately 214,000 buildings across both countries.
An estimated 240,000 rescue workers continued working in quake-hit provinces in Turkey. They persevered for weeks to find survivors trapped under rubble despite no survivors found for long periods of time. An estimated 1.9 million people are in temporary shelters, hotels, and public facilities.
As of February 25th 2023, in Turkey alone, 44,218 people died due to the earthquakes, while the announced death toll in Syria was 5,914 people.
Selective Humanitarianism During Turkey-Syria Earthquakes
The international response to the Turkey-Syria earthquake has disproportionately overlooked the Syrian people’s suffering. Syria has faced 12 years of civil war, and with international borders blocked, many Syrians received no help in the first few days after the earthquakes.
Read more: The Humanitarian Crisis in Syria 2023: A Forgotten War.
It took over a week after the earthquakes for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to issue a three-month authorization for United Nations (UN) aid deliveries to pass through two more border crossings. These significant aid delays resulted from the regime’s influence over affected regions.
These unacceptable delays entirely defy the principles of humanitarian law. As a result, Syrians have limited access to search-and-rescue reinforcements and lifesaving aid, unnecessarily costing many precious lives. The UN has failed the people of northwest Syria, highlighting inadequacies within the current system.
The slow humanitarian response to the earthquakes severely affecting northwest Syria illustrates the inadequacy of the UN Security Council-mandated cross-border aid mechanism in Syria. Thus, this crisis highlights the urgent need for alternatives to be put in place.
Read more: The Repatriation of ISIS Children Detained in Camps in Northeast Syria 2022.
The UN Pledges a $1 Billion Appeal For Turkey-Syria Earthquakes
The UN launched a $1 billion fundraising appeal to support the humanitarian needs of those affected. This appeal fund will support Turkey’s “once in a generation disaster” for three months and a $397 million appeal to help 4.9 million people in Syria.
So far, the UN Central Emergency Response Fund has donated $11.7 million. The UN held that so far, Denmark is the only country recorded to donate aid worth $1.5 million.
Human Rights Concerns Following Turkey-Syria Earthquakes
Health infrastructure was destroyed in many places, increasing the risk of waterborne diseases like cholera, diarrhoea and typhoid. In Gaziantep, a major city in south-central Turkey, hundreds of people are sleeping in tents in different parts of town, and trash has begun to pile up in public parks where some of these tents are located.
Therefore, hygiene problems, as well as inadequate housing, are some of the biggest problems in the region. In addition, the inadequacy of public toilets and the lack of infrastructure to use these toilets increases the risk of epidemics in the region.
Children’s Rights in the Aftermath of the Earthquakes
According to UNICEF, the recent earthquakes have affected an estimated 5 million children. Natural disasters such as earthquakes have severe consequences for vulnerable groups in society, such as children.
As the recovery efforts in Syria and Turkey continue, children’s rights must be a priority. All children must have access to fundamental rights such as food, clean water, and housing. Furthermore, children’s access to education and protection from exploitation and abuse is imperative. Many children in the region are unidentifiable as they are too young to know their full names, while hundreds of children’s parents remain missing.
Implementing the general principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is of fundamental importance, especially in times of crisis.
Syrian refugees in Turkey Face Forced Return to Earthquake-Strikken Regions
An estimated 1.7 million Syrian refugees lived in the ten southern Turkish provinces devastated by the earthquakes. Unfortunately, these refugees rely on temporary or international protection status. Without prior authorization, these refugees cannot travel to other provinces.
However, following the earthquakes, Turkish authorities issued a directive allowing refugees in these ten provinces to travel to other regions, except Istanbul, for up to 90 days if they could secure their accommodation.
However, in the first few days following the disaster, many fled to Istanbul, resulting in the Directorate General of Migration Management revising its decision to a case-by-case basis due to Turkey’s economic difficulties. There has been a growing anti-Syrian sentiment in Turkey which has become the host of the world’s largest refugee population.
Following this, a second directive provided refugees with a 60-day exemption to travel to other provinces without prior authorization. The question remains as to where these Syrian refugees will return to following the expiration of the directive.
A Committed and Sustained Global Humanitarian Response is Needed
The aftermath of these devastating earthquakes requires a committed and sustained international humanitarian response. Thousands are missing, and 1.5 million are homeless without shelter, food, clean water, and access to healthcare.
The true impact of this disaster will not be fully understood for decades. The international community must step up and provide aid and relief to the earthquake victims. Most importantly, human rights protections must be at the heart of the response.