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Turkey: Natural Disaster or Man-Made Tragedy?
The earthquakes in Turkey have reminded the world of the scale of tragedy and cost possible in Natural Disaster events, but how much are we responsible for these tragic events?
On the 6th of February North-eastern Turkey and Northern Syria were rocked by massive tremors, that reverberated throughout the country for days afterward, in the form of a second major shock, and several additional micro-quakes and shakes.
In total, over 41,000 have died in the disaster, while appeals for aid have raised over £65 million individually. We could expect loss of life to reach over 50,000. This has become one of the worst reminders of what the planet can do to humans in over a decade, but perhaps it should most importantly be a reminder of our continuing failure to recognise our responsibility in the events.
Before discussing the most recent event’s links to climate change, it’s important to begin by looking at some of the facts from the last few years. Yes, facts… (we think).
Climate change has most certainly contributed to a massive rise in natural disasters, most significantly the rise in the total numbers of hurricanes and typhoons. Indeed, we seem to be talking about some new Hurricane Ricardo or Mitchell or Kelly every week. While we’re not talking about the Grammy’s!
Studies have shown this to be coupled with a dangerous bonus, global warming creating “more intense rainfall” and “increased coastal flood risk” greatly intensifying the impact of those hurricanes. We’ve even seen these newer and more intense storms reach the UK, with 2017’s Hurricane Ophelia and 2022’s Storm Eunice the prime examples.
On top of this, climate change has recently decided that it’s not enough to try and waterboard humanity into stopping, it might as well try turning up the heat on us too. Over the last few summers the UK and Europe as a whole haven’t just seen a general rise in temperatures, new wide-reaching heatwaves have begun striking the continent helping numerous countries break their heat records.
Just this summer the UK saw 3 separate heatwave incident’s with the worst in July breaking the 40C barrier for the first time in British history. A study of these heatwaves has since found that climate change itself is directly responsible for increasing the likelihood of British heatwaves by 10x. And that really is x, it is now 10 times more likely, not just 10%. Scorching, you might say.
Some may question how this matters to the Western world, yes some heatwaves have made life a little less comfortable for us Northerners but many might hope we’re just seeing the UK, Germany and Scandinavia become the new French Riviera. Which could be handy given the latter’s overheating during the peak summer months. However the fact of the matter is this represents a massive threat to us now. More cauldron than Sunset Boulevard on a warm night rollerblading.
In the US, increasing hurricane activity has resulted in yearly deaths due to hurricanes being counted in the dozens, not single digits as had been the case prior to Katrina. In the UK the hottest days last summer resulted in “3,271 deaths (6.2%) above the five-year average”. These events are becoming deadly reminders even in our own backyards of the need to take the consequences of climate change seriously.
But even more strikingly than the effects in the UK, and wider western world, climate change is causing the greatest grief in the developing world, amongst those people who bear the least responsibility for its cause.
When it comes to earthquakes, prior to the tragedy in Turkey and Syria, perhaps the most famous recent example has been the destruction of life and society in Haiti. The Caribbean’s oldest independent state, and home of the first black republic was initially devasted in 2010, when a 7.0 Richter earthquake affected nearly 3 million people, 1 million were made homeless, and between 85,000 and 315,000 people were killed. We do, though, remain a little confused by the gap in their statistics…
Less well known is the 2021 7.2 Richter shock which occurred again in Haiti, though improvements and preparations had made the island nation more ready, and death tolls and the number affected were thankfully more limited. Or at least we hope they were, given the statistics thing.
Now earthquakes have struck Turkey and Syria, the shocking initial death tolls are sure to tragically get much higher, especially in Syria, with the nation still locked in a deadly civil war that massively restricts any infrastructure to get help to the people affected. Politics has tragically got in the way of a speedier response and as a result, it seems, some lives have been needlessly lost.
These earthquakes are increasingly being linked to climate change, with rising temperatures melting our world’s glaciers and changing the balance of our planet’s weight on the crust, leading to “glacial isostatic adjustment” of our plate tectonics, a fancy way of saying the world is prone to shaking up a whole bunch more.
This tectonic change could even result in a climb in earthquakes away from the traditional fault lines of our planet. As ice plates melt away, our former shields from bubbling magma from the earth’s crust are disappearing, leaving that bubbling magma to simply strike the tectonic plates, producing local and random earthquakes. And there goes our hoped for plan to simply shift to the comfy middle of a tectonic plate. Assuming we had one… (a plan that is).
Turkey is a reminder that the shock of an earthquake can affect even wealthier nations. While Turkey may not be at the economic level of one of the leading European nations, it is not a small economy and might soon be bigger than the UK’s given our recent run. Now the 19th largest economy in the world, Turkey is a member of the G20, a key part of NATO, as seen by the drama over Finland and Sweden, and a centre point of global tension between the US, China and Russia.
However, when the costs of reconstruction numbers in the billions of dollars, and the state has a government as poorly constructed to respond quickly as Erdogan’s, this can spell disaster. Rather than simply assuming this could never happen to us, we need to be considering how we in the West might handle an event like this, an event that we are increasingly looking prone to experiencing. Sorry about that.
Perhaps even more importantly we might want to consider why we seemingly dismiss climate change caused disasters outside our backyards. Over the last 50 years natural disaster’s casualties have increased 500%, up to 2 million people, with over 90% of that occurring in the developing world. We can keep closing our eyes to climate change’s effects. But earthquakes like Turkey has just experienced are not going to be unique events, and we are not safe in our Western Ivory Towers. Look what happened when we assumed that pandemics only happened in Africa.
Even if our punishment is not a shaking ground, we’ve already shown an inability to handle pandemics, heatwaves and storms. Should we really trust our current leaders and their response mechanisms to guide us smoothly through the first major tremor? I think I’ll be moving to Turkey.
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