The twin earthquakes that hit Turkey and Syria

Preparing for earthquakes can prevent thousands of fatalities

PHOTO: Shefali Lincoln / Unsplash

By: Saije Rusimovici, Staff Writer

Turkey is located directly on two main fault zones, making it a hotspot for earthquakes. The twin earthquakes of February 6, with magnitudes of 7.8 and 7.5, caused extensive damage to the region; it is now one of the top 10 deadliest earthquakes worldwide since 1950. The earthquakes impacted at least ten provinces in southeast Turkey and in Syria, “the cities of Aleppo, Latakia, Hama, and Idlib were badly hit.” The earthquakes destroyed buildings that were not prepared to resist such an impact. Over 46,000 people have been confirmed dead while many others struggle to survive among the rubble and poor weather conditions.

According to TIME, civil engineers warned that Turkey’s infrastructure would be unable to withstand the impact of a large earthquake. Despite these warnings, plans to update to modern building codes and standards were largely ignored. In 2022, Turkey’s Union of Engineers and Architects declared that Turkey “has failed in terms of what needs to be done before the earthquake.” Despite codes passed in 1997 that would require all buildings to be constructed using ductile concrete, only one in ten meet this requirement. Civil engineering professor at Purdue University, Ayhan Irfanoglu, also notes that local jurisdictions and contractors don’t often apply these codes to building designs. 

In August 2016, a magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck Central Italy, leaving many people injured, homeless, or dead. While this is not by any means comparable to the devastation of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria, I have always been an advocate for earthquake security as I had family living in that region at the time. My aunt and her family were moved from their home three years later, once the government declared her apartment complex unfit for living as the structures were not built to withstand earthquakes. Even though earthquakes are not the most common natural disaster, earthquake-resistant building techniques can help protect against all types of natural disasters. Materials like concrete, when adequately used, have the capacity to withstand tornados, fires, and floods in addition to earthquakes.

The magnitude of an earthquake and the building guidelines are not the only factors that can contribute to the great destruction of an earthquake. The Turkey and Syrian earthquakes hit in the early morning when many residents were asleep and defenseless inside their homes. Preparedness, which largely lies with the authorities and not with civilians, is crucial in minimizing the risk of fatalities and injuries. Countries like Turkey and Mexico have early-detection seismic sensors, that can prevent fatalities when coupled with efficient communication strategies by the pertinent authorities. But, because there had not been a significant earthquake in the region for more than 200 years, there was a lack of preparedness that contributed to the ability to get adequate resources in response to the earthquake. 

In the wake of this tragedy, it is important to consider that Vancouver is also in a seismic zone and there’s a possibility an earthquake will occur in the near future. Thankfully, since the ‘70s, new and renovated buildings must incorporate seismic upgrades, but it’s still important for Vancouverites to take precautions at the individual level in preparation for a potential earthquake. The BC Provincial Government recommends making an emergency plan and having a kit on hand in the event of an earthquake. It is recommended that your kit includes non-perishable food items such as canned goods, and 4 litres of water per person for both drinking and sanitization. These should last anywhere from three days to two weeks and should be stored somewhere that is accessible. It is also recommended to pack first aid supplies, portable phone chargers, and personal toiletry items. 

While the UN has launched a one-billion-dollar appeal for earthquake aid operations in Turkey, there are still many ways that Turkey needs support. SFU grad student, Nesil Martens, alongside community members Ziya Cemre Kutluay, Isin Can, Sumerjan Bozkurt, and Lara Aysal, have organized a fundraiser to support those impacted by the earthquake in Turkey and Syria. By donating to causes like Martens’ GoFund me page, survivors in need of food and shelter will receive the appropriate help. According to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, one of the best ways to support disaster survivors is to find local organizations that better understand the context, culture, and affected communities. CEO Patricia McIreavy also mentions that it is not only important to donate now when the incident is at the height of the news, but even after the immediate need.

You can donate to some of the organizations that are currently supporting those affected by this catastrophe: 

UNHCR: Provides shelter, tents, and blankets, as well as other non-food items, hygiene, and medical items.

Red Crescent Response in Türkiye: Distributes hot meals to people outdoors and in emergency shelters and sends its’ national blood stocks to the affected regions. They are calling for monetary donations and blood donations.

Médecins Sans Frontières: A non-profit organization of medical professionals that provides medical services to people affected by natural disasters. 

CDP Turkey & Syria Earthquake Recovery Fund: Provides targeted financial support where needed the most “in collaboration with local partners.”