Almost three weeks after the earthquake disaster in Turkey and Syria, the director of the World Food Program (WFP), David Beasley, lamented the lack of reporting. "Where's the news? Where's the headlines gone?" Beasley tweeted Sunday. He was also dismayed by the destruction in the southern Turkish city of Antakya and called the situation there "apocalyptic".
"This is absolutely incredible," Beasley said in a video showing him in Antakya, which he shared on Twitter on Saturday. No matter how many times you watch it on TV, until you see it for yourself it is impossible to imagine the extent of the devastation. Antakya is a "ghost town," he said. "There's only one way to describe this: apocalyptic." None of the residents have a home anymore.
The catastrophe never ends
On February 6, two earthquakes of magnitude 7.7 and 7.6 shook southeast Turkey and northwest Syria. Antakya in Turkey's far south near the Syrian border is one of the places that was particularly badly damaged.
More than 50,000 people have died in Turkey and Syria as a result of the disaster. According to the UN, around 29 million people in both countries are affected, roughly the population of the metropolises of Istanbul, New York, Paris and Berlin combined.
Meanwhile, the region still hasn't come to rest. A 5.2-magnitude tremor hit the central Anatolian province of Niğde in Turkey on Saturday, according to the Kandilli earthquake monitor. The epicenter was therefore in the district of Bor.
More than 60 aftershocks were recorded from Syrian locations within 24 hours, the country's earthquake center announced on Saturday. The aftershock phase could last another two years, according to the Turkish civil protection authority Afad. The main tremor on February 6th was followed by more than 9,000 aftershocks.
The first two planes with relief supplies landed in the Syrian capital Damascus over the weekend as part of a humanitarian airlift. Among other things, they delivered winter-proof tents, equipment for accommodation and heaters, as the EU Commission announced on Sunday. More flights are to follow. They deliver aid from EU camps in Dubai and Brindisi in Italy to the populations in both government-controlled and non-government-controlled areas.
The earthquake disaster in the south of the country is also a reminder for the Turkish metropolis of Istanbul: Experts consider an earthquake there with a magnitude of up to 7.4 to be overdue. A rapid construction program is needed for more earthquake safety worth around 30 to 40 billion dollars, Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu said on Saturday. "The amount is three times the annual budget of the city of Istanbul, but we have to be ready before it's too late."
The Istanbul region is part of the North Anatolian Fault System, a large tectonic plate boundary known for destructive earthquakes with many casualties. According to official figures, 16 million people live in the megacity, according to unofficial estimates even 20 million. There are around 1.6 million old buildings that are not earthquake-proof, Nusret Suna from the Istanbul Chamber of Civil Engineers said recently.
Consciously accepted destruction?
The authorities had failed to renovate old houses earthquake-proof, Suna had criticized. And even buildings built after 1999 are often not safe, despite the regulations that have been in force since then, because they are often disregarded out of greed for profit. A strong earthquake in Istanbul could have catastrophic consequences.
Turkey's Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag announced on Saturday that at least 184 people had been arrested on suspicion of negligence in relation to buildings that collapsed in the earthquake. A number of buildings in the affected region in the south-east of the country were not built to be earthquake-proof. Criticism was raised that compliance with applicable building standards was often not checked.
Countless buildings had not withstood the devastating earthquakes of early February. According to the Turkish government, more than 173,000 buildings were destroyed in 11 provinces of the country. Almost two million people lost their homes. The reconstruction of houses has now started.
Help also in Germany
Meanwhile, Germany issued hundreds of visas for earthquake victims from Turkey and Syria from mid-February to Friday. A spokeswoman for the Federal Foreign Office told the editorial network Germany (RND/Saturday) that there were 429 Schengen visas for stays of up to 90 days and 99 visas for permanent residence in Germany as part of family reunification.
The federal government had announced the procedure after the natural disaster. Those affected from Syria and Turkey should have the opportunity to temporarily stay with relatives in Germany. The project has been criticized in part because, despite the promise of an unbureaucratic procedure, a valid passport and a biometric photo are required, for example.