“An emergency within an emergency” – Turkey and Syria earthquakes

8 February 2023

ACT-Alliance member The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East- Department of Ecumenical Relations and Development (GOPA-DERD staff looking at the damage from the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Syria and Turkey on Feb 6, 2023. GOPA-DERD is providing food, blankets, and medical supplies to impacted households in Aleppo, Hama, Latakia.

It has been a devastating 48 hours since the world received the appalling news of two major earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. The confirmed death toll continues to rise, passing 11,000 by Wednesday afternoon. The World Health Organization projects the toll could pass 20,000 as rescue missions and recovery of bodies from under the rubble continue.

The first quake struck as people slept and measured magnitude 7.8, making it one of the most powerful in the region in at least a century. It was felt as far away as Cyprus and Cairo. The European Mediterranean Seismological Centre said preliminary data showed the second large quake measured 7.7 in magnitude. In the following twenty-four hours, there were more than 50 aftershocks, including a 7.5-magnitude tremor that jolted the region in the middle of search and rescue work on Monday afternoon.

Thousands of workers have been mobilised for the rescue mission, which is taking place in freezing temperatures and against a backdrop of years of conflict. In Syria, Aleppo is the worst affected area and the rescue operation is particularly difficult there due to poor infrastructure, made worse by twelve years of war. The emergency response in north-western Syria will be similarly difficult, with access challenges and a vulnerable population in this conflict devastated region. Even before the earthquake, 4.1 million people were dependent on humanitarian assistance and struggling with a cholera epidemic and the harsh winter conditions.

On Wednesday 8th February, The Most Reverend Hosam Naoum, the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem appealed for support for the victims of the earthquake, writing movingly about the situation on the ground. He says:

“Along with the rest of the world, we in the Diocese of Jerusalem have been horrified to see images of the massive destruction of city after city, and town after town. Collapsing buildings have killed thousands of unsuspecting victims, while leaving many thousands more buried amidst the rubble, awaiting rescue by teams of heroic workers. Hundreds of times that number are now without food or shelter and left shivering in the midst of the bitter winter cold.

“The reports from northern Syria—a region that falls within the Diocese of Jerusalem—are especially dire. Because the territory is largely inhabited by refugees fleeing an eleven-year civil war, the situation there is literally ‘an emergency within an emergency’, as one of the local victims put it. That very war has made it particularly difficult for relief to reach those whose need is most desperate.”

Archbishop Hosam asks for prayer and financial support for the victims of the devastating earthquakes, either directly or through an international partner (see below).

To date, the Anglican agencies have responded to the situation through ACT Alliance and their partners on the ground. ACT Alliance are responding by providing food items, medicines, winter kits with blankets and mattresses, and emergency support. You can support this desperate situation through Anglican Missions, Episcopal Relief & Development, Anglican Board of Mission, Anglican Overseas Aid and the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund. Please donate through their websites.

We invite you to join us and the rest of the world in praying for the affected individuals and families, and for the rescue workers who are operating in severely cold weather and dangerous conditions. We are grateful to the Catholic Relief Services for this prayer.

Lord, at times such as this,
when we realize that the ground beneath our feet
is not as solid as we had imagined,
we plead for your mercy.

As the things we have built crumble about us,
we know too well how small we truly are
on this ever-changing, ever-moving, fragile planet we call home.
Yet you have promised never to forget us.
Do not forget us now.

Today, so many people are afraid.
They wait in fear of the next tremor.
They hear the cries of the injured amid the rubble.
They roam the streets in shock at what they see.
And they fill the dusty air with wails of grief
and the names of missing dead.

Comfort them, Lord, in this disaster.
Be their rock when the earth refuses to stand still,
and shelter them under your wings
when homes no longer exist.
Embrace in your arms those who died
so suddenly this day.
Console the hearts of those who mourn,
and ease the pain of bodies on the brink of death.

Pierce, too, our hearts with compassion,
we who watch from afar,
as the poorest on this side of the earth
find only misery upon misery.

Move us to act swiftly this day,
to give generously every day,
to work for justice always,
and to pray unceasingly for those without hope.

And once the shaking has ceased,
the images of destruction have stopped filling the news,
and our thoughts return to life’s daily rumblings,
let us not forget that we are all your children
and they, our brothers and sisters.
We are all the work of your hands.