Turkey and Syria: the tragedy is mounting

Latest estimates put the death toll at more than 5,000 after a powerful earthquake struck the Turkish-Syrian border area

REUTERS/MAHMOUD HASSANO  -   A rescue team member carries a child at the site of a damaged building after an earthquake in Azaz, Syria

Drama, horror, tragedy... The death toll continues to grow by leaps and bounds following Monday's earthquake that seriously affected Turkey and Syria. The latest estimates by the authorities of both countries speak of more than 5,000 dead in the earthquake that had its main focus in a strip between the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Hama and the Turkish enclave of Diyarbakir, more than 330 kilometres northeast of Syria, causing great devastation. The quake, one of the strongest in the region in more than 100 years, was recorded 23 kilometres (14.2 miles) east of Nurdagi in Turkey's Gaziantep province at a depth of 24.1 kilometres (14.9 miles), as confirmed by the US Geological Survey.  

The situation may worsen as the death toll is expected to rise due to the plight of thousands of injured and many people still trapped in the rubble of the more than 3,000 buildings that collapsed on both sides of the Turkish-Syrian border. Rescue teams continue to work around the clock to save as many lives as possible. Latest estimates put the number of injured at more than 19,000.  

AP/MAHMUT BOZARSAN - Firefighters carry the body of a victim in Diyarbakir, southeastern Turkey, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023

Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) estimates that more than 3,000 buildings have been completely destroyed by the quake and subsequent aftershocks. The main quake measured 7.8 on the Richter scale and was followed by aftershocks measuring 7.0, 6.5, 6.0 and several above 5.0 on the Richter scale. So far, 11,000 buildings have been damaged in some way in Turkey, as reported by AFAD official Orhan Tatar. Almost 25,000 rescuers are working in the affected areas, Tatar added. 

Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself has called the situation "the biggest tragedy of the last century". Meanwhile, rescue efforts are being hampered by low temperatures and a huge amount of destroyed buildings and infrastructure, making it difficult for relief and rescue teams to reach the area.   

Hakan Bilgin, president of Doctors of the World Turkey, told Atalayar that "the situation is very bad". "The whole city of Adana and Antakya are affected, people are on the streets, many want to leave to go to other cities to look for relatives. It is very difficult. We have our Doctors of the World teams there and they were affected as well, we are reorganising to help in Turkey and Syria. Adana was badly affected despite being an hour and a half away from the epicentre of the earthquake," explained the head of Doctors of the World in Turkey. Hakan Bilgin spoke of the coordination of the entire Doctors of the World network to analyse the means available and "send everything possible to the affected areas, in terms of material, donations, professional medical staff and other sectors to support the population". 

AFP/AAREF WATAD - Syrian rescuers carry a body among collapsed buildings on February 6, 2022 in the town of Sarmada in Syria's rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib, as a search operation continues following a deadly earthquake

On the Syrian side, the destruction of the earthquake has further aggravated a difficult situation marked by the civil war in Syria, which pits the government of Bashar al-Assad against opposition and rebel forces; the civil war makes it difficult to count the number of victims, so the tragedy may grow as more information about the wounded comes to light. Meanwhile, hospitals in Syria are overwhelmed by the influx of people affected; health workers are overwhelmed by the precarious conditions in several affected areas. According to the latest figures, the death toll in Syria is said to be over 1,600 of the more than 5,000 dead so far.  

The White Helmets, an aid group working in opposition-held areas of Syria that is leading the earthquake rescue effort in the northwestern provinces of Idlib and Aleppo, said that "time is running out" and recalled that "hundreds" of people remain trapped. 

AFP/ILYAS AKENGIN - A man reacts as he searches for survivors in the rubble in Diyarbakir, 6 February 2023, after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the southeast of the country

"Time is running out, hundreds of people are still trapped under the rubble. Every second can save a life, we call on all humanitarian organisations and international agencies to provide material support and aid," the volunteers warned on the social networking site Twitter.  

Aid agencies are particularly concerned about north-western Syria, where more than four million refugees from the Syrian conflict are already dependent on humanitarian assistance and suffering a very precarious situation. 

REUTERS/KHALIL ASHAWIA - A man carries a girl after an earthquake, in the rebel-held town of Jandaris, Syria, 6 February 2023
International assistance

More than 45 countries have offered assistance to Turkey and Syria, as confirmed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. There has been a huge international response to help both countries with equipment and with medical and other skilled personnel.  

AFP/ABDULAZIZ - Members of the Syrian civil defence, known as the White Helmets, carry a victim pulled from the rubble after an earthquake in the town of Zardana, in the countryside of Syria's northwestern province of Idlib, early on February 6, 2023

The European Union and NATO have deployed search and rescue teams to the affected area and the United States has also announced assistance to Turkish and Syrian victims. Meanwhile, Russia has sent 300 soldiers to assist in the rescue efforts in Syria, where it is collaborating with the regime of Bashar al-Assad in the context of the civil war affecting the Syrian nation. For its part, Greece set aside its differences with Ankara, which are very great on various issues such as presence and geopolitical influence in the Mediterranean, to send material, personnel and rescue dogs, and Israel also approved sending aid to Turkey and Syria despite political differences over the various conflicts that have to do with the Middle East region.