What Turkey and Syria are witnessing are the consequences of one of the worst earthquakes of the 21st century. The earthquake with a 7.8 magnitude has been compounded by quakes of lesser magnitude, not to mention the aftershocks that followed them. Official estimates have already placed the death toll at over 5,000 with Turkey and Syria suffering in a ratio of 2:1. The number of injured people is much more than the casualty figure. The loss the people suffered in terms of assets and property can never be quantified. At the time of writing, there are people still trapped under the debris, who can be saved if they can be pulled out with their body parts intact. In a disaster of this kind, every second is invaluable. Life and death depend on how quickly rescue and relief are offered to the victims, who number tens of thousands.
It is a vast area, spread over two countries, that has been hit hard. While details of the earthquake and its after-effects emanate mostly from Turkey, the condition of the Syrians is actually worse. These are people who have been suffering from war-like conditions for many years — in fact, many of them had moved to the northern parts after losing all their property and belongings to brutal land and aerial attacks elsewhere in the country. It is a double whammy for them. Today, technology is such that exact mapping of the areas where damage occurred can be done. Not just the areas, even the spot where a hut remained seconds before the quake struck on Monday can be identified. Such information is useful only if relief and rescue teams are able to reach the affected areas with the necessary men and materials.
In disaster management, time is of the essence. India has been one of the first to respond to the appeal made by the Iraqi government. Within no time, it was able to send a large cargo aircraft carrying medicines and personnel trained in disaster management to Turkey. As a Turkish official pointed out, the word “dost” means the same “friend” in both Hindi and the Turkish language. In fact, he quoted a Turkish saying which means “a friend in need is a friend indeed”. This bears proof of how thankful the Turkish people are to India’s gesture. Prime Minister Narendra Modi responded in equal measure when he said that the 2001 earthquake in Gujarat taught the country how difficult it is to rebuild whatever was flattened by the seismic phenomenon that can neither be predicted nor prevented, despite all our technological and scientific achievements. The prime minister showed India’s readiness to send more assistance to Turkey and Syria.
Countries like Germany, Turkey’s next-door neighbour, and members of the European Union have also come forward to provide assistance. Incidentally, it was the Turkish people who rebuilt Germany after the Second World War. Right now, what the affected people need the most are medical care, food and water, besides shelter. Unlike war-torn Syria, Turkey has a disaster management group with thousands of personnel, who could be pressed into service. It has already rescued more than 8,000 people, including a baby who remained under debris for more than 36 hours. As one Turkish official gratefully said, there are already rescue teams from 65 countries working on the ground in Turkey, where the government has imposed an emergency for three months. All this shows how Turkey has been trying to contain the problems created when the earth shook on Monday last.
That is not the case with Syria, where the government’s hands do not reach everywhere. It is in Syria that coordination in relief management becomes extremely difficult. It has a troubled relationship with most of its neighbours and this makes the task even harder. But that is not a justification to leave the victims to the mercies of nature. They need to be reached with succour, whatever may be the difficulties involved. What Turkey and Syria pose is a humanitarian challenge that needs to be met fully and squarely by the international community. There can be no alibis in this.
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