Government Responds to Major Earthquake That Left Thousands Dead in Turkey and Syria
Over 6,000 people have been killed and more than 26,000 injured after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake and aftershocks, the largest of which was 7.6 in magnitude, struck southern Turkey and northern Syria within a space of 12 hours in the early morning of February 06.
Syrian authorities have responded to the crisis, with many businessmen donating to First Lady Asma Al-Assad’s NGO, and the Higher Committee for Relief, which is under the management of the Ministry of Local Administration and Environment. In Syria, the earthquakes mainly impacted the Idlib, Aleppo, Homs, Hama, and Lattakia governorates, Causing widespread damage to infrastructure and residential buildings and killing thousands.
According to Syria’s Ministry of Health, the death toll in government-held areas reached over 800, with around 1,400 injured by the end of February 7. Meanwhile, the White Helmets (Syria Civil Defence), the main emergency organisation leading rescue operations, reported that at least 900 people have died and more than 2,300 injured in the opposition-held parts of Northwest Syria. The death toll continues to rise as search and rescue operations press on across affected regions.
According to reports by the White Helmets, 360 buildings have collapsed, more than 1,000 have been partially damaged, and thousands sustained cracks in opposition-controlled territories.
Following the earthquake on February 06, Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad convened an emergency meeting with his cabinet to form emergency response teams and request the private sector to support disaster relief and humanitarian efforts.
All ministries, including the Ministry of Defence, were put on the alert to carry out rescue and rubble-removal operations. The Ministry of Public Works and Housing has formed technical teams to assess buildings at risk of collapse in Aleppo, Hama, Lattakia, and Tartous. The assessment will reportedly soon be published.
Meanwhile, Khaled Hboubati, head of the SARC, held a press conference on February 07, during which he explained that the main challenges facing rescue operations in government-held areas are sanctions and a shortage of equipment and medicine.
Preliminary damages and risks
In a statement issued on February 06, the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources said that it had provided all governorates with additional quantities of oil products to support humanitarian operations. However, some oil and gas infrastructure was damaged during the earthquakes:
- The ministry announced that operations at the Banias Refinery, Syria’s largest refinery, were halted for 48 hours due to a crack in its chimney and main building, damages to its industrial furnace, and oil leakage.
- The walls of the buildings of the Banias-based Syrian Company for Oil Transport, a state-owned company in charge of all the pipeline and crude transport networks in Syria, were damaged.
- The recently inaugurated gas compressors in the South Middle Area Gas Plant temporarily stopped before relaunching operations, according to the Ministry.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Electricity announced that energy production infrastructure is intact, although the earthquakes damaged large parts of the national grid and dozens of power transmissions in Aleppo, Lattakia, Hama, and Tartous. Around 200 electricity poles, seven tonnes of cables in Aleppo, and dozens of transmissions were damaged during the quake, according to the ministry.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Water Resources reported that no dams were affected by the earthquakes, but continues to monito the situation. The ministry’s statement came as the Syria chapter of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported serious damage to water infrastructure in the Lattakia governorate: “The High Ghaniri Reservoir, with a volume of 200 cubic metres, is reportedly falling apart, and the condition of its structure has been assessed as very poor.”
On February 07, the Lattakia City Council announced the collapse of the high-water reservoir in Dahr Al-Syriani village. As a result, water pumping in several villages, including Al-Rama, Al-Qaqaia, Buweib Al-Assal, Dahr Al-Syriani, Al-Mushairfa, Dahr Beit Aqel, stopped as a result of the earthquake. The Council also announced that the potable water had become turbid across the governorate.
Meanwhile, in opposition-held areas, the White Helmets announced on February 07 that water levels of the Orontes River in Hama continue to increase, risking floods in adjacent areas.
The government has yet to estimate the value of damages, though they are likely to be significant in Aleppo, according to a report published by OCHA.
On February 06, OCHA Syria reported widespread damages across Aleppo. The report also added that relief organisations are able to openly access the governorate. The Aleppo Relief Sub-Committee, which the Aleppo governorate established, has designated temporary shelters for people who fled from 150 apartments in Masaken Hanano, 25 apartments in Sheikh Taha, and 17 formal education schools.
According to several statements, the Syria Trust for Development (STD), First Lady Asma Al-Assad’s organisation, and Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) are leading local humanitarian efforts in government-held areas in coordination with the United Nations Agencies and international NGOs.
Syrian diplomatic missions in France, Sweden, Russia, Belarus, and other countries, requested donations from Syrian expatriates, according to official announcements. Locally, the Syria Trust for Development’s bank account in Byblos Bank has become the main gateway for donations from businessmen, according to several announcements published on social media.
Local donors to the organisation include, but are not limited to, the following:
- On February 07, the Federation of Syrian Chambers of Commerce (FSCC) held a meeting during which businessmen and entities donated SYP 500 million (or USD 68,965 according to the current black market of SYP 7,250 per dollar) to the STD. The Federation also urged its chambers and businessmen to donate to relief efforts via the STD’s bank account.
- The Damascus Chamber of Commerce donated SYP 300 million (USD 41,379).
- The Rural Damascus Chamber of Commerce donated SYP 600 million (USD 82,758).
- The Tartous Chamber of Commerce and Industry donated SYP 300 million (or USD 41,379), while other chambers are preparing to send truck convoys with food, clothes, and blankets.
- Mazen Hammad, deputy chairman of the FSCC and the head of the Tartous Chamber of Commerce and Industry, donated more than SYP 700 million (USD 96,551) and 5,000 food baskets.
- Wassim Al-Qattan, the secretary general of the FSCC donated SYP 1.1 billion (USD 151,724) and 10,000 food baskets.
- Fayes Al-Hussein, chairman of the Raqqa Chamber of Commerce and Industry, donated SYP 10 million (USD 1,379).
War profiteers have previously contributed to relief efforts during crises as an attempt to improve political optics on a local level.
Meanwhile, the Federation of Syrian Chambers of Industry (FSCI) opened special bank accounts in the Syria International Islamic Bank and Al-Baraka Bank-Syria and urged its members to donate cash and in-kind donations. The Aleppo Chamber of Industry announced that it donated SYP 200 million. Donations from other chambers have not yet been announced.
The Ministry of Industry issued a decision informing the FSCI and chambers of industry that their donations would be disbursed in coordination with the Higher Committee for Relief to unify the donations efforts. The in-kind donations would be distributed in coordination with the governors, the ministry added.