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Nigeria and the Turkey-Syria earthquake

By Editorial Board
15 February 2023   |   4:13 am
As the global community rallies round to provide succor for the people of Turkey and Syria, following the devastating and unprecedented earthquake that hit them, it is a pity that Nigeria, with her size and resources, is not visible as a helper and giver of humanitarian aid.

Rescue teams look for survivors under the rubble of a collapsed building after an earthquake in the regime-controlled northern Syrian city of Aleppo on February 6, 2023. – A 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Turkey and Syria early on February 6, killing hundreds of people as they slept, levelling buildings and sending tremors that were felt as far away as the island of Cyprus, Egypt and Iraq. (Photo by – / AFP)

As the global community rallies round to provide succor for the people of Turkey and Syria, following the devastating and unprecedented earthquake that hit them, it is a pity that Nigeria, with her size and resources, is not visible as a helper and giver of humanitarian aid. It is shameful because the country’s position is far from her traditional character, in the years gone by, to countries in crisis; and it was such posturing among other commendable deeds that earned her the prefix ‘‘Giant of Africa.’’ Sadly, no country can help others when it has been patently unable to help itself overcome internal crises such as terrorism, banditry, kidnapping and natural tragedies such as flooding. Nigeria will need to put her house in order to be able to attract the world to boost her internal development as well as give to the needy in and out of crises.

The two large earthquakes that struck the southeastern region of Turkey near the border with Syria the other day killed thousands and toppled residential buildings across the region. By the weekend, the number of people confirmed dead from the quakes has passed 36,000 with uncountable numbers injured or missing under massive rubbles. The Turkey temblor has become the deadliest since Japan’s 9.0-magnitude quake in 2011 sparked a triple catastrophe that left more than an estimated 20,000 people dead.

The first earthquake measuring 7.8 on the open-ended Richter scale struck at 4:17 a.m. (01:17 GMT) and was centred in the Pazarcik district of Turkey’s Kahramanmaras province. Less than 12 hours later, the second magnitude 7.6 tremor struck the same region. The tremors were felt by millions of people across the region up to 1,000km (621 miles) away. Magnitude 7 earthquakes are considered major and often very devastating, especially, when it strikes at night when people were asleep.

Since then, Turkey has been hit by more than 100 aftershocks of magnitude 4 and greater. Aftershocks are smaller earthquakes that occur in the same general area following a major earthquake. Moved by the disaster, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared a three-month state of emergency in 10 provinces across southeastern Turkey. These provinces are: Kahramanmaras, Adana, Adiyaman, Osmaniye, Hatay, Kilis, Malatya, Sanliurfa, Diyarbakir and Gaziantep.

On the Syrian side, the areas affected by the earthquakes are divided between government-controlled territory and the country’s last opposition-held pocket of land, encircled by Russian-backed government forces. Before-and-after satellite images gave an idea of the scale of destruction in the towns and cities across the region. It is shocking to see how entire buildings in Islahiye, Turkey, have collapsed, reports say.

So far, aid in terms of food and water supply, medicals, camps, technical services, even blankets etc are being offered on a massive scale notably from the United Nations, USA, Britain and many other countries in Europe; while Israel is giving massive aid of personnel and equipment to the affected countries, even though it has been at loggerheads with Syria for ages. Desperate efforts to rescue survivors continue in Turkey and Syria as freezing conditions hamper progress in some areas.

It is pertinent to ask what causes earthquakes. The Earth’s surface, or crust, is made up of giant slabs of rock called tectonic plates. These plates are constantly moving along cracks where they meet, called fault lines. As plates grind together they can get stuck, causing pressure to build up. Eventually, the pressure is so great that they break loose, causing sudden movements which release energy in the form of seismic waves. These vibrations cause the ground to shake.

Erdogan has acknowledged problems with the relief effort after visiting the affected areas. He admitted to problems with his government’s initial response. A civil war and shattered roads slow aid to quake-hit Syria.

According to Turkey’s Disaster Management Authority (AFAD), 12, 873 people have died in Turkey. In Syria’s government-controlled areas the toll has reached 1,262, according to the health ministry, with another 1,900 killed in rebel-held territory, according to the White Helmets. That takes the total to 16,035, with thousands more injured and the toll expected to rise. This was barely 24 hours after the disaster, and casualty had since gone up.

While rescuers continue to work frantically to save survivors from the rubble of collapsed buildings, the chances of finding many more people alive are fading rapidly more than 72 hours after. Nearly 1,000 buildings in the southern Turkish city reportedly collapsed, and more than 600 people are confirmed to have died there.

In war-torn Syria, the calamity has compounded an existing humanitarian crisis. Rescue efforts are severely restricted by a lack of resources needed to move debris and find survivors. With over 400 sites reportedly destroyed completely and over 250 sites partially damaged, what is needed at the moment is massive humanitarian aid from the international community.

The United States Agency for International Development has reportedly sent a specialised disaster response team to Turkey to help with rescue efforts in the aftermath of the deadly earthquake. The Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) is coordinating the U.S. government’s humanitarian response and USAID’s work with partners on ground, including the Turkish authorities. Joining the DART are two of the agency’s urban search-and-rescue teams, which reportedly have arrived in the southern Turkish city of Adana.

Also, Tunisia has joined the long list of countries that are sending aid to the two affected countries. President Kais Saied had ordered “humanitarian aid” including over 15 tonnes of blankets and food. Dozens of nations including China and the Gulf States are also helping.

While Nigeria is absent in these global efforts, she and the rest of Africa should count themselves lucky of being largely free from these natural disasters. Nevertheless, Nigeria is potentially in a position to do more for herself and other countries. She did a lot in the past; and the authorities should be worried that her capacity to respond appropriately to emergency situation has seriously waned.

Government, including the Muhammadu Buhari administration, should squarely accept blame for bad governance and wrong priorities. While so much is being spent yearly and regularly on the military and defence, corruption and maladministration have effectively shut out corresponding progress in the acquisition of military aircraft, naval ships and other equipment. Even institutions such as the Defence Academy appear to be living in past glory. Yet, government is busy building universities for the police, army, navy and the air force with little consideration for their capacity and relevance in times of crises.

The Turkey/Syria earthquake tends to raise the question of Nigeria’s foreign policy, if indeed it exists. A concrete foreign policy is all that is required for Nigeria to key into global circumstances to make her presence felt. The opportunity, unfortunately, is being wasted. And as the country battles relentlessly against local issues that should have been terminated years back, it remains imperative for her to join the world in offering humanitarian assistance to the devastated earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria, to demonstrate that humanity is one.