Five maps that show why the Turkey earthquake rescue is so fraught
The earthquake’s epicentre was in southern Turkey, near the city of Gaziantep, but the impact spread across the border deep across the north of Syria.
Large parts of entire cities and towns were destroyed on both sides of the border, which is sealed, apart from one key aid corridor.
The Syrian regime, with the support of Russia’s veto powers at the UN security council, has over the years reduced the cross-border aid route into northwest Syria down to one crossing: Turkey’s Bab al Hawa. The only lifeline for the rebel-held enclave shut as a result of the earthquake.
The road from Gaziantep to Antakya to Bab al Hawa lies in ruins, others are inaccessible. The UN has said it does not have a “clear picture” of when it will reopen, leaving more than four million people who were already living in dire conditions abandoned.
The problem of getting aid in quickly gets messy as the quake also hit areas in the northwest that are inside Assad’s control.
Western governments, who have mostly severed ties with Assad’s regime, will be doing everything possible to avoid giving aid directly to his government following a decade of death, torture and destruction at his hand. However, they do want to make sure that all Syrians get aid, despite the border closure.
Humanitarian organisations on the ground in regime areas can get assistance to civilians, but can very rarely enter the northwest.
While countries push for more Turkish routes to be opened into the northwest, the delicate UN mechanism that is held hostage by Russia could be difficult to change.
The Syrian ambassador to the UN has said that all aid, including that directed to opposition territories, should go through the government. The regime has a history of syphoning from aid and sharing it among its most loyal supporter base.
The opposition-held northwest in Syria was already devastated and barely livable before the earthquake struck.
Civilians continue to face airstrikes from Assad’s forces and Russia, as well as occasional ground fighting between rebel factions. Most of the area is controlled by former al Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS).
Syria’s regime is backed by Russia and Iran who have pockets of control in most government-held areas of the country.
While Turkey remains the last major backer of Syria’s other rebel forces, President Erdogan has taken steps towards bringing the regime in from the cold in recent months as he prepares for an election amid rising anti-refugee sentiment.
Turkey is likely to focus on its own disaster response first instead of prioritising fixing the aid route into northern Syria.
Turkey is suffering from a severe economic crisis, which has hit the region where the earthquake struck particularly hard.
The national economic downturn is exacerbated in the south, which is already host to 1.8 of the 3.5 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey.
His government has repeatedly been attacked for not being prepared enough for natural disasters, such as yearly wildfires.
For this reason the quakes have the possibility to be a powderkeg for Turkish politics, depending on the response from the government. The disaster comes at a sensitive time for President Erdogan, who faces an election in May.
The Russia question
Turkey’s upcoming election has already been dubbed the most important in the world for 2023, with Mr Erdogan looking to cement his power as Turkey stands at a crossroads.
Turkey’s Nato membership has allowed a close relationship with the West.
But it also has close ties with Russia and Mr Erdogan’s domestic crackdown on rights and dissent has angered the West.
Offers for aid came thick and fast for the international community, including from Ukraine, as Turkey remains a key power broker in the region and a buffer against Russian expansion.
Geography and geology
The first of the two quakes was believed to have been among the biggest “strike-slip” earthquakes to ever hit land as a 62-mile rupture was created between the Anatolian and Arabian plates.
The quake released 250 times the energy of the disaster that hit central Italy in 2016 and killed 300 people.
The Hatay-Gaziantep highway was damaged by the earthquake, hampering aid deliveries further. Hatay airport, as well as the roads leading to the Bab al Hawa border crossing were also damaged.
UN officials said the response in government-held Syria was facing similar problems with key roads damaged.