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A massive 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck southern Türkiye and northwestern Syria in the early morning hours on 6 February 2023. The quake was followed by a series of aftershocks and a 7.5-magnitude tremblor about nine hours later. The Türkiye-Syria earthquakes occurred near the border and were felt as far away as Lebanon and Egypt.
The earthquake was Türkiye’s worst seismic event since 1939, leaving behind destruction, loss of life, and economic damage. The death toll has reached over 54,000, and around 130,000 more have been injured. Some 24 million people in both countries have been affected in an area spanning 450 km. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the quake hit the heart of a border area home to millions of Syrian refugees during great uncertainty in Turkey and across the region.
Since the two earthquakes on 6 February, there have been thousands of aftershocks, causing fear among communities.
The situation in Türkiye
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared a state of emergency in 10 impacted provinces for up to three months a day after the disaster. The affected provinces have some of the highest poverty rates in Türkiye and host over 1.5 million Syrian refugees.
Estimates of damage
There are several estimates of the destruction caused by the 6 February Türkiye-Syria earthquakes. JPMorgan said the destruction of Türkiye’s physical infrastructure could amount to US$25 billion. Meanwhile, the World Bank estimated the damage to be around US$34.2 billion. According to the Turkish Enterprise and Business Confederation, the total cost of destruction could be as much as US$84 billion.
A long-term needs assessment by the Turkish government with support from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the World Bank, and the European Union counts the earthquake damages at over US$100 billion.
“Türkiye’s immediate and future needs are immense and span the whole range from relief to reconstruction,” said Humberto Lopez, World Bank Country Director for Türkiye.
The Turkish government has erected tent camps and container homes on the outskirts of destroyed cities to shelter the millions displaced. It has also issued rebuilding regulations to enable organizations to help in the urgent task of building new homes. In addition, the government has launched a temporary wage support scheme and banned layoffs to protect workers and businesses. These measures will remain in effect until the end of the three-month emergency rule.
Erdogan—facing an election this summer—pledged to rebuild all destroyed buildings and complete housing reconstruction within a year while preparing a program that would “make the country stand up again.” Less than three weeks after the disaster, construction for tens of thousands of housing units has begun.
But engineers and architects have noted that clearing debris would take considerable time. “It’s hard to put a timeframe on how long that would take since 10 provinces were affected, and that depends on the capabilities, organization, and coordination of the public authorities,” Eyup Muhcu, President of the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects, told Al-Jazeera.
A fragile economy
In addition to repairing and replacing damaged buildings and infrastructure, citizens need to be supported financially, says the Middle East Institute.
The reconstruction costs add to the woes of Turkey’s fragile economy, which has been rattled by hyperinflation and a cost-of-living crisis in recent years.
Caroline Holt, Director for Disasters, Climate, and Crises at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), estimates that much of the recovery work in Türkiye will be done in two to three years.
But in Syria, the IFRC is looking at five to 10 years.
The situation in Syria
Although the earthquake’s epicenter was in southern Türkiye, the calamity had devastating effects across northwestern Syria. The quake hit a region shattered by more than a decade of civil war, compounding an already dangerous humanitarian crisis.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the densely populated northwestern region is home to 4 million people who rely on humanitarian aid.
While the international community mobilizes to help Türkiye with its disaster needs, the ability to do so for Syria is much more complex. Demolished roads and tensions between rebel-held and government-controlled parts of the country slowed aid relief for Syria. In its 6 February editorial, The Guardian remarks that “supplying aid is likely to be diplomatically and logistically challenging.”
According to aid organizations, only one official border crossing from Türkiye to Syria is operational, and access has been blocked by debris from the earthquake. The first UN convoy of aid arrived after four days. “Syrians have already endured more than a decade of conflict, and they are now faced with the tragedy of this earthquake,” said Dr. Abdulkarim Ekzayez, a Syrian doctor and health system expert.
Rebuilding efforts will be even more complicated.
The road to recovery
With the rescue operations ending, attention is shifting to the millions without homes or functioning cities. The focus has turned toward shelter, reconstruction work, rehabilitation, and recovery. As of writing, authorities continue to carry out damage assessments in the worst-affected areas. Damage to economic infrastructure, including livelihoods, will also be assessed.
The task ahead is not only to reconstruct homes but also to rebuild lives. Humanitarian partners will need to:
- Support development and reconstruction,
- Restore livelihoods, community infrastructure, and basic social services, and
- Transition to longer-term recovery and rebuilding.
Restoring livelihoods and reviving small businesses
Small businesses are well-positioned to support urgent needs. They can be critical to long-term recovery, including rebuilding infrastructure, getting people back to work, and ensuring communities live healthy lives.
Providing rapid access to income and restoring livelihood infrastructure are keys to jumpstarting socioeconomic recovery.
Building Markets says small and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) face significant challenges. Nearly 17% of SMEs report being unable to continue business operations. 40 to 55% require funding for employee salaries, inventory, repairs, and new workspaces.
How Birches Group can help
Natural disasters such as the Türkiye-Syria earthquakes occur without warning, and their impact is catastrophic. They also have a devastating effect on businesses. In the wake of a calamity, organizations must take special measures to ensure the safety and well-being of their staff. Your organization’s approach should differ from how you would respond to economic volatility.
We at Birches Group can help your organization prepare for unexpected events by creating a Special Measures Policy. Natural disasters require a different response approach, and we understand the challenges such emergencies pose.
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- 15 May Market Monitor