To really help Syrian and Turkish earthquake survivors, we must be in it for the long haul

Only a month has passed since the February 6 tragedy but the news cycle is turning and the world is gradually focusing on other developments

Emine Onal cries by the grave of her daughter, who was killed in the earthquake 15 days after having started her first job as a nurse in a Turkish state hospital. Reuters
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It was 80 seconds of terror. In less than a minute and a half, the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck the Turkey-Syria border on February 6 changed millions of lives forever.

Families were torn apart, children orphaned and thousands of people left to live with long-term physical and mental injuries. Homelessness and unemployment are now widespread after entire towns and cities, such as Antakya – once home to about 400,000 people – were left in ruins.

As difficult as the situation is however, almost 30 days after more than 51,000 people died in the first earthquake, the international news cycle has turned several times and the world is largely focused once more on other developments. This slow ebbing away of interest poses a very great threat to the survivors in Syria and Turkey.

This week, The National reported that in north-west Syria, the World Bank estimates the cost of the earthquake will run to $5.1 billion in direct physical damages alone. The Bank also reported that the damage in Turkey was equivalent to 4 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.

Aside from the immediate need to provide survivors with food and shelter – itself a mammoth task – there must be a series of long-term aid commitments. There are also many questions left to address. How will children in the affected Syrian and Turkish towns, some of whom have already been displaced more than once, continue their education? Who will provide the sustained physical and psychological support needed by thousands? What about jobs and restoring some kind of economy? And before these questions are answered, thousands of building assessments need to be carried out as dangerous structures on the brink of collapse threaten more lives.

President Sheikh Mohamed visits an Emirates Red Crescent event for collecting aid for the victims of the earthquake in Syria and Turkey. Photo: Emirates Red Crescent

In the medium-term there also needs to be support for the health authorities in both countries to stave off the risk of disease. Last week, UN humanitarian affairs chief Martin Griffiths told the Security Council that north-west Syria – a region already suffering from years of war – faced the growing threat of a cholera epidemic. Getting vaccines to those already struggling to survive is itself a major challenge.

But the initial response to the earthquakes was promising, with many countries sending rescue teams and supplies as the public donated in the millions. That spirit, however, has to continue.

This week, President Sheikh Mohamed made a surprise visit to the Bridges of Goodness campaign collection centre in Abu Dhabi, where volunteers and Emirates Red Crescent employees are still gathering and assembling relief supplies.

As part of the UAE's humanitarian mission to help the quake-hit countries, it has sent almost 200 relief flights so far and delivered more than 5,500 tonnes of aid. An army of volunteers in the Emirates have also lent a vital hand to the continuing relief effort.

Some of the injured in Syria have been flown to Abu Dhabi for treatment, while the UAE set up a field hospital almost immediately after the disaster struck.

All this follows an outpouring of support from the different communities who make up the UAE, such as the thousands of people who have already come forward to pack aid at events in the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre and Expo City Dubai.

However, for the people of Gaziantep, Idlib and hundreds of other cities, towns and villages in the affected area, a month is barely enough time to even begin processing the tragedy that has befallen them. Other anniversaries of the earthquake will come and go but to really help the survivors in Syria and Turkey, we will all need to be in it for the long-haul.

Published: March 07, 2023, 3:00 AM