The World Today for February 16, 2023


When the Earth Moves


Two brothers rationed protein drinks to survive under the rubble of a collapsed building in the city of Kahramanmaras in Turkey, wrote the New York Times.

In the northern Syrian city of Afrin, hospital staff named a new-born baby girl Aya, Arabic for “a sign from God,” having been born to a mother trapped beneath the rubble who died after childbirth, the Associated Press reported.

And in Adiyaman, around 100 miles from Kahramanmaras, rescuers were still pulling survivors out of the wreckage more than a week later, including a 77-year-old woman, added CNN.

These positive stories were proliferating in the wake of a 7.8-magnitude earthquake and a series of aftershocks in Turkey and Syria on Feb. 6. But, as Reuters noted, they paled in comparison with the death toll. More than 35,000 people in Turkey and almost 6,000 in Syria have perished in the disaster. One NBC News video showed how the destruction hit people unaware as they went about their business.

Many of those who perished in Turkey were Syrian refugees who had fled their war-torn country in recent years, exacerbating an already untenable migrant crisis in the region, added Al Jazeera. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, meanwhile, is using the disaster to withhold international aid and punish rebels who still occupy parts of his country in the north, Foreign Policy magazine wrote.

Political shockwaves are now taking their toll, too, the Wall Street Journal reported. The crisis is especially putting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a democratically elected but authoritarian figure who has led his country for almost 20 years, under extreme pressure, just months before he is up for reelection.

Erdogan arguably set the stage for the destruction, the New Yorker argued. To start with, the official leading the agency that is overseeing the disaster recovery efforts has little experience in the field. More important was Erdogan’s push to build more housing in Turkey in order to improve the country’s dismal economy. He likely cut corners to help that boom, delivering subpar construction to citizens living along fault lines.

As National Public Radio wrote, videos have surfaced of Erdogan boasting in the past about waiving construction codes in order to expedite development in the region – evidence that, as many Turks suspect, the government played a role in the mass collapses of buildings.

“Earthquakes are a natural phenomenon,” said Hisyar Ozsoy, a parliamentarian who belongs to the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party, in an interview with Vox. “But the consequences of the earthquake are … governmental and political and administrative.”

Turkish prosecutors are now investigating builders who might have taken advantage of those waivers or relied on corrupt approvals and other processes to build unsafe structures. And the arrests have begun, noted Vox.

Whether anyone will believe that the results of those probes are fair, is a question for later. First, the rescues.

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