Earthquake Strikes Southern Turkey & Northern Syria

The powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck the Turkey-Syria border region early Monday has resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe, leaving thousands of Syrians dead, wounded and homeless. The earthquake, which was centered in Turkey’s Gaziantep province, resulted in widespread destruction and collapsed thousands of buildings across southern Turkey and northwest Syria. A powerful 7.5 magnitude aftershock several hours later caused even more damage and fatalities. With temperatures set to drop to sub-freezing levels in the coming days, the situation is rapidly deteriorating even for those who avoided initial injuries. The Russian military is providing emergency aid in regime-controlled areas, but the isolated opposition-held northwest has few options for emergency relief. This natural disaster compounds the suffering of the Syrian people who have already endured 12 years of civil war. The logistics of delivering aid to those in need will be a major challenge in the hours and days ahead, with much of the infrastructure needed to deliver aid in the region badly damaged from the earthquake. In the face of this humanitarian crisis, the international community must come together to provide immediate and sustained support to the people of Syria and Turkey.

Current Situation

  • Casualties in opposition-held Syria: In opposition-held northwest Syria, more than 480 people have died and over 1,500 are injured, according to the latest available statistics.
  • Casualties in regime-held Syria: The Ministry of Health in Damascus has reported 556 deaths and 1,395 injuries in the governorates of Aleppo, Hama and Latakia.
  • Mixed picture across northwest: While destruction is widespread across the region, Euphrates Shield areas generally suffered less damage while Jindares and Afrin in Aleppo province, and Haram and a-Dana in Idlib province, are currently experiencing far more acute humanitarian disasters. In regime-held areas, the most badly damaged cities were Latakia, Aleppo and Hama.

Challenges Ahead

  • Further aftershocks: The region has already suffered one major 7.5 magnitude aftershock; further levelling infrastructure and further tremors have been recorded across the region. Locals are bracing for further aftershocks, sleeping on streets and in cars out of fear of further building collapses.
  • Two different relief pictures: Relief efforts in Syria following the earthquakes will face different complications and challenges in both the northwest and regime-held areas of Syria. Opposition-held areas will be acutely reliant on coordination by Ankara in the coming days, as the region is isolated and cut-off from the rest of Syria. Since Antakya itself has also been greatly impacted, this greatly complicates the coordination and prioritization of aid to isolated regions of the northwest Syria. Similarly, while Russia is mobilizing some troops to provide emergency relied to northern areas, aid will be limited to regime-controlled regions.
  • Decimated infrastructure: The most immediate challenge is the destruction of infrastructure, including Antakya airport, and roads from Antakya to Bab al-Hawa and Gaziantep. These are crucial for international teams staging rescue operations and for the delivery of emergency relief aid. Given this reality, it will be imperative that the international community consider the possible need for alternative aid routes, such as corridors from northeast Syria.

What is Needed

  • Coordinated crisis response: As the death toll has quadrupled in just the past hours, the scale of disaster is immense and unprecedented. An immediate coordinated aid response is needed from the international community that will mobilize vast amounts of aid to reach the needy and prevent further deaths and suffering in the days ahead.
  • Emergency aid checkpoints: In the most badly damaged areas, food is unavailable to many, and thousands are currently sleeping outside without even basic supplies or shelter. Emergency food and medical checkpoints are desperately needed in the towns and cities of Idlib Haram, Termanin, Atarib, Afes, Salqin, al-Dana.
  • Emergency vehicles: In many of these same locals, crews are unable to deploy emergency vehicles to remove rubble and transport the gravely wounded to hospitals. Provision of equipment to emergency teams will be vital in the days ahead, in the rush to save any addition lives during this narrow window.