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15 June, 2024
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Death toll surpasses 11,000 as Erdogan visits quake ravaged areas

President calls for ‘national unity’ after criticism of government’s slow response as damaged infrastructure hinders rescue efforts

Source: Financial Times

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has visited the region of southern Turkey devastated by this week’s earthquake as the death toll rose above 11,000 and acknowledged that his government faced problems getting aid to victims.

Erdoğan has faced criticism for what some see as his government’s slow response to the quake, with many rescue workers struggling to get to some of the hardest-hit regions.

Erdoğan called for national “unity” as the huge rescue effort in Turkey and neighbouring Syria following Monday’s 7.8 magnitude quake stretched into a third day.

The president said 8,574 people were confirmed dead in Turkey and authorities reported that 41,000 were injured after the biggest natural disaster to strike the region in decades. More than 2,600 people are also confirmed dead in Syria, according to reports from the government and civil defence officials in the rebel-controlled north-west.

Visiting the quake-hit city of Kahramanmaraş, the Turkish leader admitted there had been problems at airports and with blocked roads, but vowed the situation would improve. His comments came a day after he declared a state of emergency in the disaster area, giving the government sweeping powers to address the crisis. 

Erdoğan has faced criticism for what some see as his government’s slow response to the quake, with many rescue workers struggling to get to some of the hardest-hit regions. He warned Turkish residents not to listen to “provocateurs” and instead focus just on official communications channels.

Rescue teams worked through the night to pull survivors from the rubble in towns and cities across southern Turkey and northern Syria. Local television stations and newspapers showed harrowing scenes of disaster victims that underscored the mounting toll across the region.

More than 16,000 people are involved in rescue operations but freezing weather conditions, snow and damaged infrastructure have made it challenging to transport heavy machinery, personnel and aid.

“The scale of the disaster is catastrophic,” said Tanya Evans, Syria country director for the US-based International Rescue Committee, adding that the quakes and aftershocks had “damaged roads, border crossings and critical infrastructure, severely hampering aid efforts”.

Countries including the US, UK, India and China have sent rescue teams to Turkey to assist local response efforts, while domestic and international aid agencies are providing personnel and materials. The UN on Tuesday announced $25mn of funds to support relief efforts.

“As the people in the region deal with the devastating consequences of this tragedy, we want to tell them that they are not alone,” said Martin Griffiths, under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator.

Experts said the low quality of construction and lack of earthquake resilience in the region contributed to the destruction. Thousands of structures collapsed after the quake on Monday — one of the worst natural disasters in the history of modern Turkey, and which was followed hours later by a second, 7.5 magnitude tremor.

“There will be a lot of focus in the aftermath on that building design quality,” said Caroline McMullan, a London-based director at risk management firm Verisk.

Robert Muir-Wood, chief research officer at Moody’s RMS, another risk modelling provider, estimated that Turkey’s public-private earthquake insurance scheme could suffer a hit of up to $1bn, which would be shared with international reinsurers. “This is really dangerous construction and that is a significant feature of this,” he said.

Big European insurers Allianz and Axa, which have Turkish subsidiaries, said it was too early to estimate losses, a message echoed by reinsurer Munich Re, one of Europe’s biggest reinsurers.

Allianz said the group’s earthquake risks were “generally well-reinsured”.

Trading on Turkey’s stock market was suspended on Wednesday after the country’s benchmark equities index fell 7 per cent, extending a steep slide from the previous day triggered by the earthquake. 

The Bist 100 fell 7.1 per cent, twice tripping a “circuit breaker” put in place to smooth tumultuous trading. Trading typically resumes following a brief suspension, but Refinitiv data showed no movement in the Bist 100 from around 10.40 am local time. 

The index has fallen 16 per cent following the quake, although it had already started falling before that as investors worried about upcoming elections in May and the government’s policy of holding interest rates low despite very high inflation.

The Bist 100 was among last year’s best-performing markets, with retail traders piling in as they sought returns during a severe cost of living crisis.

Cyprus  |  Turkey  |  earthquake  |  business

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