Friday, December 8, 2023

Recovery from the disaster of the century needs more than a few months of international assistance

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Two devastating earthquakes hit the Turkish-Syrian border on February 6. The epicenter of the first 7.7 magnitude quake struck 34 kilometers west of Gaziantep, Turkey’s sixth-largest city. This was followed a mere nine hours later by a second 7.6 magnitude quake, roughly 95 kilometers north-northwest from the first, in Kahramanmaras Province, a part of eastern Turkey known for its mountains and steppes. 

Followed by over 15,000 aftershocks, the earthquakes were utterly catastrophic. Every tremor caused widespread damage in southern and central Turkey, as well as in northern Syria, affecting areas that cover over 110,000 square kilometers, or roughly the size of Bulgaria.

Earthquake damage in eastern Turkey.

The human toll has been devastating with 12,000 buildings destroyed, at least 48,000 dead and millions more have been left homeless.

In the aftermath of these earthquakes, Turkey sounded a level 4 alarm calling for global assistance. The international community responded strongly with more than 90 countries sending search and rescue teams, including over 10,000 personnel, in what has become the most extensive search and rescue mission in recorded history.

While this act of global solidarity has saved thousands of lives, much more is needed to fully recover from what is now the “disaster of the century”.

The European Parliament plans to create a platform for multilateral dialogue to improve cooperation, strengthen solidarity, identify immediate humanitarian needs of earthquake survivors, raise awareness regarding the current situation in southern Turkey and Syria and evaluate the current effectiveness of aid and assistance between the EU and Ankara.

While an immediate response is vital, the work has merely just begun. For survivors, the most important thing is the immediate reconstruction of their homes. After having healed from the initial physical shock, those that were left homeless need to begin healing from the psychological trauma by being returned to a permanent place of residence.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has promised to rebuild safe and permanent housing units in the affected areas within a year. How successful this endeavor remains to be seen, but what is certain is that Erdogan will not be able to do it alone. A united international effort will be needed, regardless of the political ramifications.

At a time of crisis, the European Commission stressed that political differences and rivalries were set aside to come together, but noted that the international response was not only immediate and effective but also from countries with which Turkey is not necessarily on the best of terms.

Fahrettin Altun, the Director of Turkish Presidential Communications, said Turkey appreciated the EU’s support and looks forward to any further assistance from Brussels in the relief and recovery efforts for earthquake survivors. 

Turkey’s Fahrettin Altun speaks to the European Parliament.

Altun hopes the disaster relief collaboration between the EU and Turkey could open the way for future discourse and facilitate diplomatic conversations between the two sides that go far beyond crisis response planning.

The EU intends to call on other international partners to show solidarity with the Turkish and Syrian people by mobilizing pledges in line with the magnitude of the damage caused by the earthquakes.

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