February 10, 2023
DHAKA – The humanitarian crisis that has unfolded in Turkey and Syria following a 7.5 magnitude earthquake, the strongest to hit the region since 1939, has shaken us to the core. As of writing this editorial, death toll has passed 20,000 as predicted – with at least 17,134 people confirmed dead in Turkey, and 3,277 dead in Syria. As rescue rescue efforts enter fourth night, the death toll is certain to rise further. Officials and locals believe that many people are still under the rubble, waiting to be rescued. However, the Turkish government’s response has been criticised by many because of its severe “shortcomings”, which the Turkish president has also admitted.
Under the circumstances, Turkey and Syria (in both government-held and rebel-held areas) need international support to accelerate their response. The World Health Organization chief also warned that time was running out for the thousands still feared trapped and injured. According to a survivor in the rebel-held town of Jindayris, Syria, “there are around 400-500 people trapped under each collapsed building, with only 10 people trying to pull them out. And there is no machinery.” This reveals the sorry state of rescue operations in Syria.
We understand that it is extremely difficult for any nation to deal with a disaster of such a massive scale. Which is why the world must extend its full support to not only help rescue the quake-hit people in the affected areas, but also provide the survivors with food, shelter, medicine and other necessities. Our government has already sent a rescue team with necessary training to Turkey. While other countries have also extended their support, there still remains some difficulties in sending such teams in war-torn Syria. But we think during such a tragedy, our goal should be to save lives, and all other considerations should make way for that.
The tragedy in Turkey and Syria has also reminded us of our own weak earthquake preparedness. Bangladesh being situated in an earthquake-prone zone, we are at risk of being hit anytime. And if an earthquake of a similar scale does hit us, the level of devastation would be unprecedented – experts believe that up to 300,000 people may die if a 7-magnitude earthquake strikes Dhaka. Dhaka and other major cities including Chattogram have many buildings that were not constructed following the building code. Have we taken the necessary preparation to avert the danger that it entails? It is time we took lessons from the Turkish-Syrian experience.
Finally, we extend our heartfelt sympathies to the victims and survivors of the quake-hit people in the region, and hope that the world will stand by them at this most critical time.