The earthquakes were horrific on their own. First — shortly after 4 a.m. local time on Monday — came Turkey’s strongest quake in more than 80 years, followed hours later by an unusually powerful aftershock. The latest death count is more than 5,000 and will probably rise.
Compounding the damage are three existing crises in the region where the quakes hit, near the Syrian border in southern Turkey: first, Syria’s civil war; second, a surge of refugees into Turkey because of the war; third, economic problems in both countries.
Today’s newsletter gives you the latest details and photographs from Turkey and Syria as well as an explanation of the larger problems facing the region. Those problems are complicating the recovery from the quake and will continue to do so.
Crisis No. 1: Syria’s war
“We kept looking up to the sky for jets,” said Osama Salloum, a doctor in a part of northwestern Syria where the quakes hit. “My mind was playing tricks on me, telling me it was war again.”
The region includes the city of Aleppo, the site of some of the worst fighting during Syria’s decade-long civil war (which has been halted by a cease-fire since 2020). Syria’s government leveled large sections of Aleppo between 2012 and 2016 and killed thousands of people. The assault succeeded, and the battle of Aleppo was a turning point that helped Syria’s government effectively win the civil war.
Rebuilding since then has been limited, our colleague Raja Abdulrahim writes, and the earthquake has created an acute set of new problems. “Anywhere else in the world this would be an emergency,” a spokesman for the International Rescue Committee said. “What we have in Syria is an emergency within an emergency.”
No. 2: The refugees
The flow of Syrian refugees into Western Europe has received a lot of attention in recent years. In some countries, including Italy and Germany, it appears to have bolstered far-right political parties.
But the scale of war-related immigration to Turkey is of another order of magnitude. As The Economist writes:
At the end of 2010, just before the start of the war, Turkey had only 10,000 refugees and asylum seekers. Twelve years on, it hosts 3.6 million Syrians, more than the rest of Europe put together, plus over a million migrants from Africa, Central Asia, the Middle East and Russia. Turkey is a country transformed.
Recovering from the quakes will be even harder for refugees living in temporary quarters, such as the three “container cities” in the southeastern part of the country.
No. 3: The economy
As prices have soared across much of the world over the past few years, central banks have raised interest rates. Economists across the ideological spectrum agree with the approach (even if they disagree about the details): By making loans more expensive, the central banks depress demand and reduce inflation.
Turkey, however, has pursued a very different monetary policy. It has reduced interest rates. I’ll spare you the technical arguments that its government has offered in defense of the policy, because it has failed. Annual inflation has hovered between 50 percent and 90 percent over the past year, causing hardship for many families and businesses.
The earthquakes are likely to make matters worse by disrupting production and supply chains. As the world experienced during Covid, supply-chain problems reduce the supply of goods and, by extension, often cause price increases.
Southeastern Turkey, where the quakes hit, was already one the country’s poorest regions. The economic slump appears to be aggravating concerns about the influx of refugees.
Syria’s economy is in even worse condition than Turkey’s, because of the war. Syria’s G.D.P. — which measures total economic production — fell by more than half between 2010 and 2020, our colleague Liz Alderman notes.
For more: Many organizations are aiding the rescue efforts. Here’s how you can help the victims.
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ARTS AND IDEAS
‘Palaces for the people’
When the first library in Nairobi, Kenya, opened in 1931, access was restricted to white patrons. Nearly a century later, a nonprofit group is trying to turn the city’s old libraries into inclusive public spaces, The Times’s Abdi Latif Dahir writes.
In addition to restoring several libraries that fell into disrepair over the years, the nonprofit is working to digitize their archives, bring in more books in African languages and help people with disabilities
“Our public libraries can be glamorous spaces of storytelling,” said Angela Wachuka, a Kenyan publisher. “We are here to also reclaim history, to occupy its architecture and to subvert its intended use.”