Turkish President Erdoğan has declared a state of emergency for the areas hit by the earthquake

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to the press after magnitude 7.7 and 7.6 earthquakes hit Turkey’s southern provinces February 7, 2023 in Ankara, Turkey.

Mustafa Kamaci Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared a three-month state of emergency in ten provinces of the country on Tuesday.

Turkey and neighboring Syria have been rocked by two consecutive earthquakes – the strongest in the region in almost a century – that have devastated vast tracts of land, taking lives and buildings with them.

At the time of writing, the death toll from the quake is over 5,100, with many still missing and seriously injured. And shortly after the seismic catastrophe left tens of thousands of people homeless, a brutal winter storm hit that threatened even more lives. On Tuesday, the Turkish government announced the start of a seven-day mourning.

The tremors, which occurred nine hours apart and measured 7.8 in Turkey and 7.5 in Syria on the Richter scale, destroyed at least 6,000 buildings, many with people still inside. Rescue efforts continue – the Turkish government has deployed nearly 25,000 search and rescue workers – and countries around the world have pledged help, but rescue workers in both countries say they are completely overwhelmed.

Rescuers and civilians search for survivors under the rubble of collapsed buildings in Kahramanmaras, near the epicenter of the quake, the day after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck the south-east of the country on February 7, 2023.

Adam Altan | AFP | Getty Images

Syria, already paralyzed by years of war and terrorism, is the least prepared for such a crisis. In the affected regions, thousands of IDPs already living in dire conditions such as tents and makeshift huts live with very little health and emergency services infrastructure to rely on.

“Northwest Syria – particularly Idlib and Aleppo – has suffered 12 years of brutal conflict,” wrote Charles Lister, senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington DC, on Twitter. “More than 65% of the region’s basic infrastructure has been destroyed or badly damaged. Tonight’s earthquake could not have hit a more vulnerable region. An absolute disaster.”

Residents rescue an injured girl from the rubble of a collapsed building after an earthquake in the rural town of Jandaris in the northwestern Syrian city of Afrin in the rebel-held part of Aleppo province, February 6, 2023.

Rami Al Sayed | AFP | Getty Images

For its part, Turkey has been mired in economic decline and a deepening cost-of-living crisis for several years. This has been fueled by a combination of high global energy prices, the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, and most importantly, Erdogan-led economic policies that have pushed interest rates down despite inflation exceeding 80% Turkish lire to a record low against the dollar.

“Unfortunately, as we all know, the Turkish economy is already in dire straits; high inflation, budget deficits, current account deficits and so on,” Arda Tunca, an Istanbul-based economist at PolitikYol, told CNBC on Tuesday.

“And it is obvious that this earthquake will put a lot of pressure on the Turkish economy both on the inflation side and on the budget side,” he said. “I think we’re going to have some deep, deep repercussions from this unfortunate event.”

Aftershocks are still expected in the affected regions, on Tuesday another earthquake with a magnitude of 5.6 hit central Turkey. The tremors have so far caused a string of fires, including a huge fire at the port of Iskenderun in southern Turkey. Turkey has halted its oil exports as a precaution.

Numerous world leaders and organizations have pledged their support to Turkey and Syria.

The EU has deployed more than 1,150 rescue workers along with around 70 rescue dogs to Turkey to assist local authorities, while the World Health Organization said it had activated its network of emergency medical teams “to provide essential health care for the injured and those most affected the earthquake that hit Turkiye and Syria.”

“Ten urban search and rescue teams from Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Greece, the Netherlands, Poland and Romania were quickly mobilized to assist first responders on the ground,” said EU Commissioners Josep Borrell and Janez Lenarcic in a statement .

The fire in the containers that overturned in Iskenderun port after the earthquake continues in Hatay after severe earthquakes struck Kahramanmaras, Turkey on February 7, 2023.

Sezgin turnip | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

US President Joe Biden said via Twitter that he was “deeply saddened by the loss of life and devastation caused by the earthquake in Turkiye and Syria” and pledged to provide any assistance needed.

“I have directed my team to continue to monitor the situation closely in coordination with Turkiye and provide any assistance needed,” he wrote.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz reiterated Berlin’s support for Turkey: “We mourn with the victims and fear for those buried. Germany will of course send help.” Germany’s Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said the government would “mobilize all the help we can activate”.

Faeser said the country’s federal agency “can set up camps to provide shelter as well as water treatment facilities,” and that tents, blankets and generators are being prepared. Around three million Turks live in Germany, the largest Turkish diaspora in the world.

Equipment and supplies for the Urban Search and Rescue Team from Fairfax, Virginia, and USAID in support of earthquake victims in Turkey are loaded onto a transport plane at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, in this released handout photo on February 7 2023

US Air Force | Reuters

Erdogan said 70 countries have offered their support and that 8,000 people have been rescued in Turkey as of late Tuesday afternoon. Ten ships and 54 cargo planes are currently involved in the rescue operations, he said.

Still, questions have been raised as to why so many buildings in Turkey were clearly unfit to withstand earthquakes, despite the region being a known hotspot for seismic activity.

Turkey suffered a catastrophic 7.6 magnitude earthquake in the northwestern province of Kocaeli in 1999, causing extensive damage and killing more than 18,000 people. While the government’s main job right now is to save as many people as possible, there are likely to be calls in the coming weeks for explanations and accountability for why more precautionary measures in areas such as building codes have not been taken after 24 years.

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