The MED This Week newsletter provides expert analysis and informed insights on the MENA region’s most significant issues and trends, bringing together unique opinions on the topic and reliable foresight on possible future scenarios. Today, we place the spotlight upon the two massive earthquakes that hit southeast Turkey and northern Syria early on Monday, killing thousands and leaving a trail of destruction in both countries. What are the likely implications of such a catastrophe? How is the international community mobilising to deal with the aftermath? What challenges lie ahead?
The expert of the ISPI MED network react to one of the most devastating quakes that shook the Middle East region.
Besides the enormous loss of life, Turkey will face huge economic troubles
“The region affected by the earthquake is impoverished, with the main industries located in Malatya and Gaziantep. This area is home to a significant Kurdish, Arab and Syrian refugee population, and Gaziantep is regarded as the capital of Syrian refugees in Turkey. The loss of thousands of lives and destruction of infrastructure and homes will be followed by a long-term economic hardship. Furthermore, these communities, which are already facing multiple tragedies, will struggle with the lack of access to basic needs. The estimated economic toll of the disaster is above 35 billion dollars, a figure that could prove disastrous to the already fragile Turkish economy. Therefore, the human cost of the earthquake will extend beyond the immediate and colossal loss of life. Against this backdrop, it is unclear how elections could be held in the ten cities affected by the earthquake, making it quite likely that they might be postponed.”
Güney Yildiz, IPC-Mercator Fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP)
Will president Erdogan live up to the many (past and new) challenges?
“The catastrophe that has befallen one of the country’s least developed areas, already hit by the repercussions of the civil war in neighbouring Syria, is destined to leave a long-lasting mark. President Erdogan and its ruling Justice and Development Party (Akp) will have to show they can satisfy the needs of the population affected by the earthquake, especially in light of the country’s presidential and legislative elections scheduled for May. Infact, the earthquake occurred while the country is already strained by economic difficulties and a high inflation rate in the wake of the post-Ukraine rise in energy and staple goods prices.”
Valeria Talbot, Head of MENA Centre, ISPI
The problem of international aid in Syria: it rains, and it pours
“The earthquakes have devastated local populations in both rebel-held and regime-held Syria. One of the most contentious issues is that of access to aid. Only one border crossing, Bab el-Hawa, is currently open between Turkey and Syria, which limits the amount and pace of assistance reaching Syria’s opposition-controlled northwest. Furthermore, the Assad regime bombed one area in the region, Marea, shortly after the earthquakes. There are concerns that such bombings will continue, adding to the scale of devastation and hampering rescue operations. The White Helmets civil defence organization have highlighted how the earthquakes also affected their rescuers, as they are residents of northwest Syria. The scale of destruction is lesser in regime-held areas located further from the epicentre of the earthquakes, and aid sent from Arab countries like UAE and Egypt to Damascus is already being distributed to those swaths of territory. However, the corrupt nature of Assad regime’s means that even these populations cannot be guaranteed full access to the arriving aid. The national authorities also insist that any assistance meant to cross from regime to non-regime areas must be delivered to and handled by the Syrian government. No such cross-line aid has been sent over the past ten years. The earthquakes have further amplified the dire conditions Syrians were already living under across the country.”
Lina Khatib, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House
This week’s MED This Week has been edited by Lorenzo Fruganti