We Need to Talk About the Earthquake in Turkey and Syria

Digital Illustration by Nava Mach. 

I’ve always admired how much GDS students cared about social justice issues such as Ukraine and Afghan refugees, but when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Turkey and Syria on Feb. 6, the GDS community seemed to turn a blind eye. 

The earthquake displaced over 2.4 million people, destroyed over 200,000 buildings, caused $55 to $90 billion in property damage and killed over 50,000 people, according to Reuters. The damage caused in both countries is irreparable. Given the horrific circumstances, it’s shocking that students haven’t posted about it as much as the events in Ukraine, for example, on social media and are not engaging in conversation about the event. The GDS community should work to actively educate ourselves about this humanitarian crisis.

Students interviewed by the Bit recall seeing the event on the news when the earthquake immediately happened but did not see much follow-up. Junior Claire Simon said she has “heard almost nothing in mainstream U.S. media.”

Senior Lydia Kabiri said that in American news outlets, it is “hard to connect with less Christian, westernized beliefs” as there is a lack of attention to Middle Eastern issues in U.S. news. Kabiri brought up a fascinating point; we, as Americans, are more comfortable with uplifting stories that resonate more with our identities as Americans than we do with stories that are foreign to our ways of life. That is why it is our responsibility, not only as members of our school community but also as global citizens, to actively ensure that we are educating ourselves and others about issues that may not necessarily be as familiar as events in America.

In an American Conservative article, Brad Hoff wrote that United Nations (U.N.) humanitarian officials, charity organizations, and church leaders are urging the immediate lifting of sanctions and argue that U.S.-led sanctions punish the Syrian people. The earthquake is relevant to the United States because while the U.S. sanctions do not directly restrict humanitarian aid, they have impeded the ability of Syria to receive the necessary aid to combat the earthquake, Aya Batrawy wrote in an NPR article

Furthermore, the Go Fund Me website states that in order to comply with international sanctions, all donations given to Syria must be carefully reviewed by the Go Fund Me Trust and Safety team. 

Following the earthquake in Turkey, the biggest in Turkey’s recorded history, the country received $1 billion in aid from the U.N., and while that has helped tremendously with the relief efforts, there are still millions of people living in dire situations. 

Syria, one of the oldest civilizations in the world, has had a very different experience. Syria only received $397 million from the U.N.

According to an NBC article, only 5% of affected areas in Syria have been searched, whereas almost 80% of the rubble in Turkey has been searched. Syria simply does not have the funds or equipment to search impacted areas and rescue civilians.

So how should GDS students educate themselves on events like this earthquake? We can read more about it in the news, engage in conversation, post more about it on social media and find donation drives near us. Even though the earthquake has occurred so far from the country we call home, we have a responsibility as global citizens to learn about issues in the Middle East and help those who are struggling around the world. As members of our school community, we have the power to make the change that we seek in the world, even globally.