Turkish President Erdogan declares state of emergency for earthquake-affected regions

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

Mustafa Kamaci | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday declared a three-month state of emergency in 10 provinces across the country.

Turkey and neighboring Syria are reeling from two back-to-back earthquakes – the strongest in the region for nearly a century – which have devastated huge swaths of territory, taking lives and buildings with them.

As of this writing, the death toll from the earthquakes is over 5,100, and many people are still missing and seriously injured. And soon after the earthquake disaster left tens of thousands of people homeless, a severe winter storm set in, threatening even more lives. On Tuesday, the Turkish government announced the start of seven days of mourning.

The earthquakes, 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 of them while people were still there. Rescue efforts continue – the Turkish government has deployed nearly 25,000 search and rescue personnel – 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 hit the southeast 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. The affected areas are home to thousands of internally displaced people who are already living in dire conditions like tents and makeshift shacks, with very little health infrastructure and emergency services to fall back on. .

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

Residents retrieve an injured girl from the rubble of a collapsed building following an earthquake in the town of Jandaris in the countryside of Afrin city in northwestern Syria, part rebel in Aleppo province on February 6, 2023.

Rami Al Sayed | AFP | Getty Images

For its part, Turkey has been plunged in recent years into economic decline and a worsening cost of living crisis. This was fueled by a combination of high global energy prices, the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, and primarily, Erdogan-led economic policies that suppressed interest rates despite inflation. over 80%, sending the turkish lira at a record level against the dollar.

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

“And obviously this earthquake is going to put a lot of pressure on the Turkish economy from the inflation side, as well as from the budget side,” he said. “I think we’re going to have a very profound impact on this unfortunate event.”

Continued aftershocks are still expected in affected areas, and another 5.6 magnitude earthquake hit central Turkey on Tuesday. So far, the earthquakes have caused a multitude of fires, including a huge fire in the port of Iskenderun in southern Turkey. Turkey has stopped its oil exports as a precaution.

Dozens of world leaders and organizations have pledged support for Turkey and Syria.

The EU has sent more than 1,150 rescuers and around 70 rescue dogs to Turkey to help local agencies, while the World Health Organization said it had activated its network of emergency medical teams “to provide essential health care to the injured and most vulnerable affected by the earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria.”

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

The fire in overturned containers after the earthquake in the port of Iskenderun continues in Hatay, after major earthquakes hit Kahramanmaras, Turkey, on February 7, 2023.

Sezgin Pancar | 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 Turkey and Syria”, and pledged to provide all necessary assistance .

“I have instructed my team to continue to closely monitor the situation in coordination with Turkey and provide all necessary assistance,” he wrote.

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

Faeser said the country’s federal relief agency “can set up camps to provide shelter as well as water treatment units”, and that tents, blankets and generators are being prepared. . Germany is home to the largest Turkish diaspora in Europe.

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

Still, questions will be raised as to why so many buildings in Turkey seemed unsuitable for earthquakes, despite the region being a well-known hotspot for seismic activity.

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