On February 6, one of the strongest earthquakes in a century struck Turkey and Syria and shook us from our beds at around 4 a.m. Nine hours after the first 7.8 magnitude hit, another 7.6 magnitude one hit the region again sending buildings weakened in the first shock to total collapse.
The death toll from the earthquakes is still climbing. But twenty one days in, the death toll stands at 44,000, with more than 100,000 injured, and many more receiving aid for survival in bitter cold conditions.
The earthquakes in Turkey and Syria were, like most earthquakes, both utterly shocking and entirely predictable. The region lies on two major faults, and Turkey’s own history is riddled with earthquakes. There is no way of preventing an earthquake, but the sobering question is whether this enormous loss of lives could have been prevented.
It is no secret that Turkey’s construction sector is at the forefront of the country's economic growth. The pressure to build faster and cheaper has led to collusion between politicians and housing developers, and a lack of respect for building codes. There were buildings that stood solid while others next to them completely collapsed like sandcastles, burying occupants under the rubble. Many of these buildings were sold as luxury housing “compliant with the latest earthquake safety standards. ”
As the people continued dying because of the earthquake, Our government was about as useful as the flies buzzing around the rotting flesh of the people still trapped under the rubble. Nobody knew who was in charge. The whole system was frozen due to the lack of leadership shown by the person in charge of the country. It required a massive rescue operation spread across ten of Turkey’s eighty one provinces. But there were minimal professional rescue teams or equipment deployed by the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency in the first fifty six hours, where usually after such a disaster, most rescues will occur within the first twenty four hours.
The pro-government media interviewed many seismologists not to learn from them but to reinforce the narrative that “the earthquake was too big to handle,” despite the fact that the experts also underlined the negligence in applying the earthquake regulations. “The disaster of the century” narrative was used to defend the lack of search and rescue operations. “What’s happening is part of fate’s plan” was another narrative which was used to tranquilize the public.
Almost as soon as the first earthquake hit Turkey, thousands of people started posting videos and photos on Twitter to voice the pain and to try to match aid to what’s needed on the ground. This ended in a Twitter blackout making it impossible for people to ask or get help through it, seemingly, to prevent “disinformation” which in practice means images that portray the lack of search and rescue operations.
Universities switched to online education as the state-run dormitories were allocated to earthquake survivors as emergency accommodation. Students living in dorms across the country were ordered to pack and leave with little notice. Many students were already away spending the semester break with their families. Some of these students were from provinces affected by the earthquake.
There are a couple of questions to be asked here. Why is the first thing to go education? Since hundreds of hotels are standing empty, why not open them up to the survivors? How effective is it going to be housing these people in tiny dorm rooms? Does every student have the means or conditions suitable for online education, especially the ones with destroyed homes who still do not have access to proper power and internet connection?
I am full of questions and I am sad beyond words. I am also furious. I know that many people in Turkey right now feel the same way. We deserve better. It is time now, if we don’t change this will get worse. We have to change.
February 2023, Mersin.