Southern Turkey and northern Syria saw a deadly earthquake striking them on February 6; the disaster did a massive damage across the region which has already experienced a vast amount of avoidable destruction in recent years. The nonstop war in Syria has formed millions of refugees, many of whom have now been victimized by the earthquake in Turkey’s south. Worse, the poor are the worst sufferers in this devastating seismic activity.
As of today, the death toll stands more than twenty thousand and it is likely to rise as the rubble is cleared— an unknown number of people still remain buried under the rubble of the collapsed buildings. The only solace right now is that the quakes have come and gone, allowing rescue operations to ensure that those still alive under the rubble are brought out safely. And to prevent further loss of life.
Notably, the leaf out of the book of the Turkey/ Syria disaster is heartbreaking — life for the poor is very vulnerable and remains an easy prey to several simultaneous crises. From such large-scale crises, the endeavors for recovery seldom end in victory.
The houses of the poor can be structurally less reliable and more vulnerable to the seismic havoc. An example, in the Peruvian earthquake of 2007, homes of the poor neighborhoods collapsed in the province of Ica. The recent quakes in Turkey and Syria have reinforced the notion that the global have-nots are the first victims. Both of the natural disasters and manmade ones.
What is heartening is that aid packages and relief facilities are seen racing to the affected region after the massive disasters. However, it has been observed that the packages and aid often end up in the hands of the aid providing agencies. Benefitting the disaster-stricken remains a far cry. Ironically, these brazen frauds lose sight of the aid senders and its custodians.
Tragic but truth is that for a majority of the world’s poor population, life means a continuous disaster only to receive no attention. The New Humanitarian news agency, in June, found gross disparities in disaster relief — almost half of all emergency funding for 2022 “going to only five protracted – and largely conflict-driven – crises". The agency said that the United Nations estimate claims that the number of annual disasters will increase to some 560 by 2030. It further stated that the victims of the disasters are often forced to remain in unsafe locations – thereby setting the stage for new crises.
In Afghanistan, an ongoing dependence on aid has done nothing to secure safety for the country In August 2022, floods killed more than 180 people, and just two months after an earthquake had killed more than 1,000. In May, the NGO "Save the Children” stated that the country was going through its “worst hunger crisis on record”, with nearly 50 percent of the population going hungry due to a drought and unending economic upheaval.
Likewise look how politics, greed and mismanagement sparked an environmental catastrophe in the Caribbean nation of Haiti. This small nation, in 2021, witnessed a major earthquake measuring 7.2. Following a deadly storm and landslides, more than 2,200 people were killed and 130,000 homes destroyed. Scores of schools and hospitals too were damaged.
The natural disaster struck in a decade after a 2010 earthquake had taken life of about 220,000 people, leaving 1.5 million homeless. Billions of dollars raced in to rescue and rehabilitate Haiti. But actually a small amount reached the poor Haitian earthquake victims. The lion's share was pocketed by the aid organizations and international security forces.
Make no mistake in September 1986, a year after an earthquake hit Mexico; the Washington Post reported that no fewer than 80,000 people went homeless. Indeed, the city never fully bounced back from the physical damage or the disaster mismanagement.
While the rich protect themselves from the devastating effects of disasters (natural or man-made), it is the poor who get pushed into the smithy of miseries and hardships because of the military conflict, economic destruction, climate issues, and the COVID pandemic. Similarly the recent quakes in Turkey and Syria will mar the poor the most, leaving them at the mercy of the aid pledges and packages. Indeed, the aid may flow into their rescue but its mismanagement cannot be ruled out.
(Author is Teacher by profession and RK Columnist. He can be reached on: email@example.com)