Why were the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria so devastating?

On February 6 2023, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck southern Turkey and northern Syria, followed by a second 7.5 magnitude earthquake. Thousands of aftershocks followed.

21 March 2023

Building severely damaged by an earthquake in Turkey
On February 6 2023, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck southern Türkiye (formerly known as Turkey) and northern Syria, followed by a second 7.5 magnitude earthquake. Thousands of aftershocks followed.  ShelterBox Programme Manager Sam Hewett, and Dr Sam Hughes, Senior Lecturer in Geology at the University of Exeter, explain why these earthquakes were particularly devastating.

Why did the earthquakes have such a large impact?

Southern Türkiye and northern Syria sit in a part of the world known as a ‘triple junction’, where three of the earth’s tectonic plates meet. The region is extremely vulnerable to seismic activity. During the earthquake these three tectonic plates collided at the same point. The length of the fault zone during the first earthquake was roughly 300km long, while the second earthquake ran at 140km. This was the strongest disaster in Türkiye in a century. The timing of the first earthquake was particularly unfortunate. While earthquakes tend to come on quickly, people only have a few moments to react and attempt to get to safety. This earthquake struck at night while people were inside in their beds, with little chance to react.

Why where those affected particularly vulnerable?

two young boys standing in the middle of a displacement camp, wearing winter coats Raawa, 7 years old and Basma, 7 years old, wearing the winter coats that were included in our aid distribution The earthquakes affected people in Türkiye and Syria in different ways. This is due to the level of economic, social, and physical vulnerability of those living in these regions. Why was Syria vulnerable?
  • Syria has been in a brutal civil war since 2011. Clashes are most regular in the north-west, where the earthquakes struck.
  • Millions were already displaced within the country. Syria holds the largest number of Internally Displaced People in the world.
  • Basic services and infrastructure were already on the brink of collapse.
  • Syria is facing a major economic crisis. 90% of the population live below the poverty line. The price of bread is almost unaffordable.
  • There is an ongoing Cholera outbreak in Northern Syria. During crisis, overcrowding enables disease to spread.
Why was Türkiye vulnerable?
  • Eastern Türkiye is significantly more vulnerable to insufficient infrastructure standards compared to the rest of the country, largely due to economic disparity (2020 OECD report).
  • In November 2022, civil engineers warned the country’s infrastructure was incapable of handling a large earthquake (TIME, 2023). Türkiye was structurally unprepared for the disaster that was to come. This explains why damage to infrastructure was so widespread.

How is ShelterBox helping?

two men carrying aid packages in a warehouse Sorting aid items and preparing for distributions in our warehouse in Gaziantep, Türkiye. We are providing crucial shelter items to families in both Türkiye and Syria.  Items include tents, stoves, blankets, mattresses, solar lights, and children’s winter coats. These items will help people surviving this ongoing nightmare, protecting them from the winter weather, preventing the spread of disease, and providing some privacy as they get back on their feet.
Learn more about our response and see how you can support our work. Learn more