Seven Things You Need to Know about the Earthquake in Syria and Türkiye

Published: Feb 13, 2023 Reading time: 5 minutes
Families take shelter outside in temporary shelters, tents, and olive groves while they wait for any news about their loved ones. Ezmarin, NWS.
© Foto: People in Need

Following the earthquake that struck southeastern Türkiye and northwestern Syria in the early hours of the 6th of February, we immediately mobilised our resources to provide aid for survivors. On both sides of the Turkish-Syrian border, we are distributing hot food, blankets, clothing, and cash to those in need. More than a week after the earthquake, here are seven things you need to know about it.

Why was the earthquake so deadly?

The earthquake was a powerful one, registering 7.8 on the magnitude scale. Although southern Türkiye is intersected by the East Anatolian Fault (the line where two tectonic plates run alongside each other), an earthquake of that strength hasn’t occurred in the region for more than 80 years. As a result, the area was less prepared than it might have been. In northwest Syria especially, many buildings were poorly constructed and ill-prepared to cope with a disaster of this scale.

The timing of the earthquake was also a significant factor. It struck at 04:17 in the morning, when many people were asleep in their beds. For those who became trapped under rubble, the freezing winter weather made it even more difficult to survive while awaiting rescue, as well as impeding the efforts of rescue teams to reach them. This combination of factors has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and left many more injured and homeless.

What areas were worst affected?

In Türkiye, the hardest hit areas are close to the epicentre, 20 kilometres from the mountain town of Kahramanmaraş in the country’s southeast. The town itself has witnessed tremendous devastation, while the surrounding nine provinces of Gaziantep, Kilis, Hatay, Adıyaman, Diyarbakır, Şanlıurfa, Osmaniye, Adana, Malatya were also severely affected - an area 450 kilometres east to west, and 300 kilometres north to south. 12.7 million people live in these areas, including 1.7 million Syrian refugees.

Northwest Syria was also hit hard by the earthquake. Preliminary reports suggest that Aleppo governorate, on the Turkish-Syrian border directly south of the epicentre was the most affected. However, the adjacent provinces of Idleb, Hama, Latakia, and Tartous did not escape large-scale destruction.

Is the situation worse in Syria than in Turkey?

Both Türkiye and Syria have been severely devastated. The difference between the two is that 4.1 million people in northwest Syria were already depending on humanitarian aid long before the earthquake struck.

This region of the country has been crippled by years of war, and the vast majority of people living in the northwest have had to flee their homes at least once. Many are now experiencing the same tragedy, only this time their homes have been destroyed by an earthquake rather than bombs and missiles.

Why is it so difficult to get aid into northwest Syria?

The area of northwest Syria most affected by the earthquake is fractured into different zones of control under the thumb of various actors and armed groups that have vied for influence throughout 12 years of unending conflict.

At the moment, there is only one approved crossing from Turkey into Syria’s northwestern Idleb province - Bab al-Hawa. The Bab al-Hawa crossing has been subject to UN security resolutions to keep it open, although the route itself is heavily damaged as a result of the earthquake. Damaged roads and the precarious status of humanitarian access into northwest Syria means that aid can be slow to reach affected areas.

Is PIN operating in northwest Syria?

Yes, we have been operating in Syria for more than a decade, and last year we helped nearly 1.5 million people in northern Syria. In 2012, we established our first humanitarian aid operation in Syria, in Aleppo and Idleb governorate. With more than 500 employees in the region, we were able to immediately mobilise our resources to begin delivering aid to survivors of the earthquake.

What is PIN doing to respond?

In northwest Syria, we are distributing cash handouts, hot food, winter clothing, and other basic items to those affected by this tragic disaster. Broken down into numbers, we have distributed:

  • 50,000 litres of petrol and other vital equipment to local authorities to assist with rescue efforts over the last week.
  • 300 pieces of winter clothing for children and adults.
  • 1,500 ready-to-eat food kits for the most affected families.
  • 800 hot meals a day from canteens in the towns of Jandires and Azaz.
  • 1,200 basic aid packages containing tarpaulins, blankets and basic household equipment.

In Türkiye, we are distributing blankets, clothing and financial assistance to local partners in cooperation with local representatives and NGOs. We are also in the process of identifying areas of severe need.

PIN’s SOS Earthquake Syria and Türkiye Emergency Appeal has raised more than €2.4 million to date, which will help to fund our operations, in addition to support from donors such as the European Union.

What will happen now?

The precious 72-hour window for search and rescue operations is now over, but that doesn’t mean that volunteers and rescue teams will stop looking for survivors trapped under rubble.

At the same time, we are already planning ways to scale up our response to reflect the new, longer-term needs of people affected by the earthquake. As the days and weeks begin to pass, people’s needs will change. Priorities will shift from rescue operations and acute healthcare services, to things like reconstruction efforts, home repairs and debris clearing.

In Syria in particular, winter conditions will be difficult to endure for those who have lost their homes and have nowhere safe to stay. In this case, earthquake survivors will need longer term support. 

Autor: PIN

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