Turkey-Syria Earthquake Is World’s Deadliest in Over a Decade

“We know [casualty] numbers will climb,” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday. “We’re in a race against time to save lives.”
The earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria this week is now the deadliest the world has seen in over a decade. By Wednesday evening, 11,600 people had been confirmed dead. Tens of thousands more are injured.

As deaths continue to mount, search and rescue teams from across the world are in a race against the clock to locate survivors amidst the rubble of thousands of collapsed buildings. Experts warn the window of opportunity for rescue is closing rapidly.

“The first 72 hours are considered to be critical,” Steven Goldby, a natural hazards expert at Nottingham Trent University told the Associated Press. “The survival ratio on average within 24 hours is 74%, after 72 hours it is 22%, and by the fifth day it is 6%.”

Despite massive international efforts, the scale of the devastation means many people are still waiting for help to arrive.

Accessibility to war torn area limited

The intensity of the earthquake which affected Turkey and Syria is shown in darker colours, with the epicentre in orange.

“We continue to be very concerned about areas which are inaccessible,” said World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Syria Dr Iman Shankiti, noting that the damage caused to roads and transport infrastructure has rendered certain regions inaccessible to emergency services. “The health needs are tremendous.”

The affected area straddles the war-torn region of northern Syria where Kurdish forces, Syrian-backed militias, and remnants of Islamic State, all control enclaves of territory.

The quakes shattered roads surrounding Bab al-Hawa crossing, the only UN-designated transit point for aid from Turkey into Syria. As a result, emergency aid and response teams have yet to reach Idlib province. That has left some 4.5 million Syrians – around 60% of whom have already been displaced by the war – without assistance. The United Nations, which is already mounting a massive relief effort in Turkey with WHO and other UN agencies, said it hopes to send the first aid trucks to the Syrian side of the border on Thursday.

Refugees displaced by the Syrian conflict have been hit particularly hard. Turkey hosts more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees, and in the 10 Turkish provinces hit by the quake, more than 1.7 million of the 15 million inhabitants are Syrian refugees.

The UN estimates 10.9 million people inside Syria have been affected by the quakes. The World Food Programme said it has enough food to feed people in Syria for one week. A dozen years of war have critically weakened the country’s healthcare system, leaving just 50% of its hospitals operational.

At a press conference held at WHO headquarters, Executive Director Mick Ryan called on governments to reflect on the compounding effects of war and conflict on health systems, and the lives of ordinary people.

“What’s common in both the [Syrian and Ukraine] wars is the devastating impact of war and conflict on the health system, and the health and wellbeing of ordinary civilians,” he said. “The reality is, it doesn’t matter what takes a building down, 7.9 degrees on the Richter scale or a missile. It’s human bones that are crushed, it’s human children that are killed.

“The situation in Turkey and Syria in terms of the earthquake is largely unavoidable,” Ryan said. “The realities underlying the crisis in Syria and the crisis in Ukraine are entirely avoidable.”

Image Credits: US Geological Service .

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