The monumental tragedy in Turkey-Syria quake - GulfToday

The monumental tragedy in Turkey-Syria quake


Photo used for illustrative purpose.

The quake that hit Turkey and Syria early this week, and which has resulted in the death of a staggering 24,000 people and left many more thousands homeless, has revealed not just the intensity of the quake, but it has also shown up other problems. The mountains of rubble that got piled up because of the deadly quake had become the biggest obstacle in relief work. More people seem to have died because rescue workers could not reach them in time.

Turkeys President Tayip Recep Erdogan confessed frankly that despite placing the largest rescue force on the ground, relief work was not fast enough. He said, “Although we have the largest search and rescue team in the world right now, it is a reality that search efforts are not as fast as we wanted them to be.” He also admitted that shops were looted in some places. The breakdown of law and order is understandable as whole towns have been razed to the ground.

The Turkish president was visiting the quake-affected cities. Even as Erdogan faces the presidential election in May, observers say that he was facing a challenge even before the killer quake, and that the natural disaster is likely to make his election prospects more challenging. The leader of the main Turkish opposition party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, said, “The earthquake was huge, but what was much bigger than the earthquake was the lack of coordination, lack of planning and incompetence.” Erdogan hit back at his opponents for the negative campaign when the need of the hour was solidarity.

On the other side of the border, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad too inspected the quake-affected areas. Syria faces the unenviable problem of reaching relief to people in areas in the northwest which are controlled by the anti-Assad government forces. President Assad has allowed aid to be flown into the rebel areas reeling unleashed by the killer quake. The state media said that the aid will be delivered by the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

Even as rescue workers continue to search for survivors and they miraculously found babies and their mothers still gasping for life beneath the rubble, it seemed that there was life and hope in the middle of utter devastation. What seems to be slowing down rescue and relief work is the inclement weather with winter temperatures plummeting, and thousands of survivors stranded with no roof over their heads. It will indeed take a very long time for the cities to be rebuilt and the people rehabilitated. It is evident then that the humanitarian aid for the survivors must continue for many months more. There are no simple solutions for the reconstruction of the towns and cities in south-east Turkey and northwest Syria. Apart from huge funds, what will be needed is cooperation among governments, international agencies and the stranded people.

And at some point the question will have to be asked whether lives could have been saved though there is no way of either predicting quakes accurately or of controlling them. Unlike cyclonic storms in tropical countries and snow blizzards in the temperate climates where warnings could be given and people moved to safe shelters, earthquakes knock without warning. What can possibly done is to plan urban habitats in such a way that there are not too many tall buildings, and the houses are built with materials that makes their clearance easier, and also maintain sufficient open public spaces. Governments do not think of the future and they do not believe in long-term goals. So, they let congested urban spaces with rickety tall buildings to come up, which in turn become death-traps when an earthquake occurs.

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