Picture: Rami al Sayed / AFP – A resident salvages some blankets, as search and rescue operations continue days after a deadly earthquake hit Turkey and Syria, in the town of Jindayris, in the rebel-held part of Aleppo province, on February 10, 2023. The 7.8-magnitude quake early on February 6 has killed more than 20,000 people in Turkey and war-ravaged Syria, according to officials and medics in the two countries, flattening entire neighbourhoods.
By David Monyae
Türkiye and Syria were hit by 7.8 and 7.6 magnitude earthquakes on February 6, which left a trail of devastation. At the time of writing the death toll in both countries was over 21,000 with Türkiye suffering the most as it recorded a death toll of over 17,000.
The death toll has surpassed that of the 1999 earthquake which killed 17,000 people in Türkiye. Critical infrastructure such as roads, power lines and water systems were destroyed by the tremors. According to estimates, about 6,000 buildings were razed to the ground. The disaster has precipitated a humanitarian crisis with over 300,000 people displaced, almost 64,000 badly injured and in need of urgent medical assistance.
There are thousands more people who are still missing as they remain trapped under the rubble. The economic cost that Türkiye and Syria will suffer as a result of the earthquake is estimated at over US$4 billion. The international community led by the United Nations has been quick to mobilise aid to help the hundreds of thousands of people affected by the earthquake.
The UN has availed a US$25 million grant to start addressing the humanitarian crisis. The European Union (EU) has sent 27 rescue and search and medical teams to Türkiye and Syria while also funding humanitarian organisations working in these countries. The United States (US) has deployed two rescue and search teams, China has also sent rescue and search teams and availed US$5 million for emergency relief. Other countries including Russia, Sweden, Canada, Japan, and Britain among others have also sent in various forms of assistance to Syria and Türkiye.
A few African countries have also been involved in providing much-needed humanitarian assistance to the two affected countries. Algeria deployed an 89-member Civil Protection team to Türkiye and another 85-member team to Syria to assist with the rescue efforts. The North African country also sent 210 tonnes of humanitarian aid to help the victims. Tunisia also dispatched 14 tonnes of blankets and food while the Tunisian president has appealed to medical volunteers to go to Türkiye and Syria and contribute to the relief efforts. On its part, Egypt sent medical supplies to the two countries while South Africa’s humanitarian organisation, the Gift of the Givers has flown out some of its members to help with rescue and search and medical relief.
Several other African leaders including the Chairperson of the African Union (AU) have sent condolence messages of solidarity with the people of Türkiye and Syria. However, while the little that has been done by a few African countries and the messages of solidarity from others are appreciated, the Continent must do more to help.
Türkiye, the worst affected of the two countries, enjoys thriving relations with Africa. With a total of 43 embassies today from just 10 in 2008, Türkiye is the fourth most represented country in Africa after the US, China, and France. This is evidence of expanding and intensifying diplomatic relations. The development of diplomatic relations paved the way for Türkiye to be granted an observer status at the African Union and also becoming Africa’s strategic partner in 2008.
On the economic side, trade between Türkiye and Africa stands at US$26 billion, from US$3 billion just 20 years ago. Türkiye is also a major investor in Africa with its foreign direct investment (FDI) reaching US$10 billion in recent years. Moreover, Türkiye has also been very active on the development and humanitarian aid scene in Africa. In Somalia, Türkiye operates the largest military training centre while Turkish companies help run the east African country’s main sea and airports that generate about 80 percent of government revenue. Türkiye also contributed to Somalia’s debt relief while its ministry of health runs the biggest hospital complex in the country.
Türkiye has co-operated in health with other countries on the Continent including Libya and Sudan. Further, Türkiye’s state-owned Maariff Foundation runs 175 schools in 26 countries across Africa. In the higher education sector, over 5,000 African students were awarded Turkish scholarship programmes between 2010 and 2019 to study in various fields of specialisation.
As such Türkiye and Africa enjoy a thriving and growing partnership. It is only right that Africa is there for Türkiye during its worst natural disaster in decades. The African Union should go beyond issuing messages of condolence and mobilise aid that can help Türkiye and Syria mitigate the devastating effects of the disaster.
More African governments should also chip in to help in whatever they can to reciprocate what Türkiye has been doing on the Continent. This would also be consistent with the pan-African philosophy of Ubuntu. Sending help to Türkiye and Syria would only cement and reinforce the strategic relationship that is developing between Türkiye and Africa from which the latter will only benefit. Africa is not too poor to help.
David Monyae is Associate Professor of International Relations and Political Science, and Director of the Africa-China Studies Centre at the University of Johannesburg