At 4:17 a.m. Turkish time, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the south of the country and parts of northern Syria. A few hours later, another strong earthquake caused widespread destruction. Countless setbacks followed and hundreds of thousands of houses collapsed. The scale of the devastation gradually became apparent over the following weeks.
Almost a year later on Friday, the Turkish Interior Ministry recorded 53,537 deaths. Accurate information on casualties of the civil war in Syria is difficult to find. According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the quake killed around 6,800 people across Syria. Hundreds are still missing and relatives want to continue searching until they are sure.
People continue to be housed in containers and tents
Meanwhile, many survivors lost their homes and were moved to tents. Many of them are now housed in living containers, but scores of families are still living in tents in the worst-hit Hatay province – although temperatures often remain above zero at night, Reuters news agency reported. The destruction is still prominent in many cities, such as the center of Hadea's capital, Antakya.
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Turkey's president recently described the earthquake as a “disaster of the century” that cannot be prevented or dealt with quickly. Erdogan and his government were heavily criticized after the earthquake. They were blamed for errors in crisis management, and the focus was on illegally built residential buildings that were later legalized by the government.
Reconstruction works are lagging behind
The reconstruction announced by Erdogan – 319,000 earthquake-proof houses to be built within a year – is being delayed. At a weekend meeting in Hatay, Erdogan attended a major handover and announced that he intends to hand over 200,000 housing units by the end of the year, significantly less than originally planned.
One year after the earthquake: life in tent cities
One year after the devastating earthquake struck southeastern Turkey and northern Syria, the effects are still being felt. About 60,000 people died. To this day, many of the survivors live in emergency shelters.
According to the Turkish president, the high number of victims was primarily due to unscrupulous building contractors who used cheap concrete and ignored basic building regulations. According to the AFP news agency, more than 200 contractors have been arrested, but many of them are feared to be getting off easy as the clean-up effort has also destroyed much of the evidence. For example, officials responsible for building permits are also criticized – but according to AFP, they can only be investigated with the approval of the Interior Ministry, which is apparently holding back.
Selection also plays a role in reconstruction
Reconstruction and dealing with the earthquake in general could also show Erdogan the future — and he made clear in his appointment on Saturday that political calculations were involved. According to the DPA, Hatai province said that he could not properly help anyone who did not work with the central government. In contrast to Kahramanmaras province, which is also badly affected, Hadai is ruled by the opposition. At the end of March there will be local elections – for which he actually campaigned in Hade.
In Syria, a return to everyday life is far from over. The quake has deepened already widespread poverty, with hospitals and electricity and water supplies destroyed, forcing many Syrians into tented settlements, US news agency AP reported. About 800,000 people living in tents need to be resettled. International aid has decreased recently – but it is said to be vital to the people in Syria.
The NGO seeks further support
Aid organization CARE appealed for more financial assistance to the affected areas. “The international donor community must immediately take seriously the current impacts of the earthquake and the long-term risks in Turkey and Syria,” said Director for Turkey Rishana Haniba. Without adequate funding, humanitarian needs will continue to grow. Neighbor in Need is also involved in relief efforts in the area and stresses that help is still needed.
The fear of another earthquake is great – Turkey lies on two of the world's most active fault lines and is rocked by small earthquakes almost every day. But there are also fears that the government is less prepared for another disaster than before. “The country must urgently move from crisis management to risk management,” Istanbul Technical University disaster management professor Migdad Kadioglu told AFP. “There's a lot to do.”