Less than two weeks after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake devastated parts of Turkey and Syria, killing tens of thousands of people, another massive quake ripped through an adjacent region.
Shortly after 8pm local time on Monday (Feb. 20), a tremor struck near the city of Antakya, the capital of Turkey’s Hatay province, near the border with Syria. The 6.4 magnitude quake was followed by a 5.8 magnitude aftershock three minutes later, and then by 31 lower-intensity aftershocks.
At least 6: The reported death toll after the Feb. 20 earthquake, so far
At least 294: The number of people injured in the Feb. 20 earthquake—18 of them severely, according to a tweet by Fahrettin Koca, Turkey’s minister of health
1.6 feet: How much the sea level could rise, as a result of the quake. Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority issued warnings urging citizens to avoid coastal areas as a precaution.
19,436: The number of search-and-rescue workers from various organizations who stepped up in the aftermath of the Feb. 6 quake
300,000: The number of tents authorities set up in earthquake-affected areas after the Feb. 6 disaster. The Turkish government said on Feb. 20 that it would aiming to increase the number to 350,000
356,000: The number of pregnant women among survivors of the Feb. 6 quake who urgently need access to health services. Around two-thirds are in Turkey, and the rest in Syria. Of this total, 38,000 are due to deliver in the next month.
200,000: The number of apartments for which construction in 11 earthquake-hit provinces of Turkey will begin next month
After the latest earthquake, the USGS said: “Significant casualties are likely.” Part of the reason is because the population in the region “resides in structures that are a mix of vulnerable and earthquake resistant construction. The predominant vulnerable building types are adobe block and dressed stone / block masonry construction.”
The materials aren’t the only point of concern, though. The failure to adhere to safety requirements during construction is another big red flag. In 2019, the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan boasted of awarding several builders an amnesty, retroactively legalizing thousands of buildings that failed to meet earthquake construction standards as long as fines were paid.
During the Feb. 20 earthquake, some people were in already damaged buildings to clear out their possessions when the structures collapsed. But the quake also hit several areas where buildings had already turned to rubble the first time round, which meant that casualties were lower because people had already left.
“We’ve sent approximately 1.8 million pounds of relief supplies for survivors—shelter, kitchen sets, blankets, hygiene kits, and more—and more is on the way.
“We’re continuing to announce additional assistance, new funding to support these efforts. Yesterday I announced an additional $100 million from the United States on top of the $85 million we’ve already provided. The American people—communities and businesses, as Mevlut [Çavuşoğlu, Turkey’s minister of foreign affairs] said—have seen the heartbreaking images and they have been standing up, too. We have nearly $80 million in donations from the private sector in the United States, individuals. When I visited the Turkish embassy in Washington, I almost couldn’t get in the front door because boxes were piled high throughout the driveway to the embassy.”
— US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Feb. 20, a day after he flew to the Hatay Province to look at some of the devastation from the Feb. 6 earthquake
While rescuing survivors and treating traumatic injuries is the first priority, these efforts only scratch the surface of the healthcare crises that often hit earthquake-stricken areas.
With people cooped up in tents, it will become important to “address communicable diseases that spread easily among people sheltering in close quarters, such as respiratory or diarrheal infections,” according to Sean Kivlehan, assistant professor of Global Health and Population at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. There will likely be an uptick of vaccine-preventable diseases as well as non-communicable diseases that turn into acute problems.
Kivlehan worries especially about Syria, where the health system was “fragmented and inadequate” even before the earthquake, compared to Turkey, which has a “a fairly strong emergency response infrastructure and health care system, and the ability to provide some level of resources.”
“In the short term, I worry about everyone, but long term, I worry the most about the people in Syria who were already suffering,” Kivlehan said. “I think we’re going to see the effects of this for a long time. Any progress that’s been made in northwest Syria in recent years is at risk of being wiped out. It’s beyond devastating.”