My hometown Antakya in Turkey has been destroyed. The city was hit by two massive earthquakes in the middle of the night on the 6th of February, and it is still affected by countless aftershocks.
When I see photos from my Antakya, I hardly recognise it. The tremors have transformed blocks of multi-storey apartment buildings on the street that I grew up to heaps of gravel overnight. Scores of buildings along the main shopping streets have collapsed, the school I went to has become a ruin, and the century’s old inner city has been devastated. Many people I know are desperately calling for help as they look for their loved ones.
The damage caused by these earthquakes is, however, far more widespread. Around 22 million people live in south-eastern Turkey and northern Syria. Turkish authorities report that over 6,000 buildings have been destroyed, and experts have estimated that 180,000 people may be buried in the rubble of their former homes across an area that is roughly as large as the UK. The Mayor of Gaziantep (a city of two million) recently stated that 30,000 individuals were missing in just one neighbourhood. The region is also, to compound the problem, experiencing unusually cold weather. Temperatures are in some cases dropping to -3c, with snow and rain obstructing rescue efforts.
I am fortunate, as my parents were able to take cover in their car for the past two days. Many others have not been so lucky. The official death count across Turkey and Syria is now over 11,000, and this figure is likely only the tip of the iceberg. The WHO has warned that fatality counts typically rise drastically in the week that follow the initial earthquake, and some experts predict that over 34,000 people may die as a result of the tremors.
It’s crucial that we act swiftly to prevent more people from dying, and to make sure that survivors receive the help that they need. The resources available are dwarfed by the task ahead of us. There are woefully few rescue teams operating in Antakya, and it took them a long time to arrive. The situation is also dire in Syria, where critical infrastructure was badly damaged by the war and disputes over territory are hampering aid efforts. While the UK has sent teams to assist in the rescue efforts, more is needed. There is a critical lack of everything from food and water to heavy equipment and generators.
We, as citizens, can also act. There are many organisations that are doing their best to rescue people and provide disaster aid, and which are calling for more funding to continue and scale up their work in this critical window. In Turkey, local charities Ahbap and the AKUT search and rescue association are doing their best to assist victims, alongside UK-based charities like the British Red Cross. In Syria, The White Helmets, Unicef, and Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) are at work treating and rescuing victims. Please consider donating what you can – it’s sorely needed.
Simge Andı is a Lecturer in Quantitative Political Science at the University of Exeter.
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