Turkey/Syria earthquake: What you need to know

February 7, 2023

The earthquake and subsequent aftershocks have created a complex humanitarian emergency in a region already affected by conflict.

Crisis upon crisis

Over the past ten years, the city of Gazientep in southern Turkey/Türkiye* and the surrounding area has been a refuge for hundreds of thousands of people fleeing conflict across the border in Syria. Many aid organizations, including Concern Worldwide, have operations in the area, providing support for the displaced.

At 4.17am on Monday February 6th, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck the region, causing massive destruction and loss of life, both in Turkey and neighboring Syria. Most of those who died were asleep when their buildings collapsed on top of them. Another major tremor at lunchtime on Monday caused further destruction and aftershocks are continuing.

USGS mapof Turkey Syria earthquake

Two main seismic events occurred on February 6th. Source: USGS

Tens of thousands were injured, many are still trapped beneath rubble, and hundreds of thousands have been left homeless. Frigid weather has made the situation worse for both survivors and rescuers. Concern’s Regional Director, Fiona Gannon, said:

“These have been some of the strongest earthquakes for a century and aftershocks have disrupted communications and electricity supplies — many people are too afraid to go inside, choosing to sleep in their cars instead.”

Turkey is one of the most seismically active areas in the world — in 1999 a major earthquake in Izmit killed some 17,000 people  — but the East Anatolian Fault has been mostly quiet over the past century. This may have contributed to a false sense of security, and it has become clear that many of the buildings in the region were not built to withstand a major seismic event.

Search and rescue efforts underway in Samada, Syria.

Search and rescue efforts underway in Samada, Syria. 6 February. Photo: UNOCHA/Ali Haj Suleiman

Humanitarian response

While rescue efforts continue, both in Syria and Turkey, a major priority for local authorities and organizations like Concern is to support those who have been left homeless by the earthquake. The Concern Worldwide team in Şanliurfa quickly began to deliver blankets, food, and other essentials to centers of refuge. They have been also helping to construct temporary shelters for those with nowhere to go.

World Health Organization (WHO) senior emergencies officer Adelheid Marschang told the UN health agency’s executive committee that as many as 23 million people across Turkey and Syria “are exposed”. This includes around over one million children.

The pressure on services, especially in conflict-affected areas of north-west Syria, will increase over the coming days and weeks. Many of those affected have already been displaced and traumatized by years of conflict, and much of the core infrastructure has been badly damaged, complicating aid efforts.

Erecting temporary shelters in Turkey

Concern team supporting the municipality to put up collective shelters in Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa. Photo: Concern Worldwide

Concern Worldwide’s Kirk Prichard reports that country teams are working with local authorities and partners to assess humanitarian needs and design an appropriate response. “Concern is uniquely well-positioned to respond to this disaster with pre-positioned emergency supplies and hundreds of staff members already in the region. We will do everything in our power to help.”

*In mid-2022 it was announced that Turkey should officially become known internationally as Türkiye. Concern has already begun to use this version in many of its communications, but we recognize that it will take time for Türkiye to become recognized in popular usage and and in the interim we will continue to use both names.