International cooperation in face of calamities - GulfToday

International cooperation in face of calamities

A man stands amid the rubble at the site of a collapsed building, in the aftermath of the deadly earthquake, in Kahramanmaras, Turkey. Reuters

A man stands amid the rubble at the site of a collapsed building, in the aftermath of the deadly earthquake, in Kahramanmaras, Turkey. Reuters

The 7.8 Richter scale earthquake that hit southeastern Turkey and northwestern Syria on Monday, with the rising death toll having gone beyond 11, 000 has unleashed staggering devastation in the town with crowded buildings and the residents many of whom are refugees from Syria in Turkey and other Syrian refugees in their own country. The political situation, especially in Syria, makes it more complicated. There is also the fact that the southeastern provinces in Turkey – President Recep Tayip Erdogan has declared emergency in 10 of the provinces in the quake-hit region to speed up relief measures – are economically undeveloped and geographically it lies along the quake-prone Anatolia Fault-line.

According to Bogaziici University’s Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute’s Professor Mustafa Erdik, “One of the reasons why the number of casualties has been so high is because of poor quality of buildings.” And this in turn connected to economic underdevelopment and migration from the villages which gave rise to urban centres without facilities. It will be argued that compared to the 30,000 people who had died in a quake in 1939 and the 17,000 in 1999, the 5,000 plus figure is a relatively less. But that cannot be a solace for those who have died and for those whose family members have died. Apart from the challenge of rescuing survivors and the dead from the mountain of debris of the razed buildings, there is the challenge of extremely cold weather conditions which makes it difficult for the rescue workers to clear the debris and take out the survivors and the dead. And organizing relief camps in the wintry conditions to people who have lost their dear ones and their belongings remains a humongous task.

In north-west Syria, which is partly controlled by the rebels and partly by the Bashar Assad government, rescue work will be complicated. The international and the United Nations aid agencies might be able to work in rebel-controlled areas, but not in territories under the control of the government in Damascus. The natural disaster has made the political disaster faced by the refugees doubly complicated. The homeless refugees in Syria and in Turkey are faced with a situation when they have lost their family members and their worldly possessions twice over. The United Arab Emirates and other Gulf Arab countries have announced relief packages and they will reach the victims soon enough. The main task then is to make arrangements for quick delivery to the people who need them most and who need them immediately.

It is necessary for both Syria and Turkey, and other international organisations like the United Nations, to think of reconstruction of the towns and cities destroyed on scientific quake-resistant building technologies to protect people from earthquakes in the future. Scientists have admitted that it is difficult to predict an earthquake, but it possible to take necessary precautions to prevent loss of human life and damage to physical infrastructure in the face of future natural calamities. The fact that Monday’s earthquake was spread across the Syrian-Turkey border shows that natural disasters are not confined to political boundaries. It does not mean the political boundaries be done away with. It means that there is greater cooperation between states to face situations caused by earthquakes, floods, droughts. One of the lessons learned from the challenge of climate change is that all the countries have to join hands to tackle it. And the same principle needs to be applied to natural disasters. In quake-prone regions like Turkey, Greece and Syria, there should be an inter-government panel of experts and rescue-operators to deal with a situation thrown up by Monday’s earthquake.

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