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Earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 2 March 2023

Tags: Condolence

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, the earth broke open across Tȕrkiye and Syria at dawn on 6 February this year. It was a 7.8 magnitude earthquake and people were sleeping and at their most vulnerable, which is part of the reason the human toll was so shocking. The earthquake struck south-east and central Tȕrkiye and north and western Syria but was felt as far as Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Cyprus and the Black Sea coast of Tȕrkiye. The first quake lasted just 80 seconds but the destruction it caused is mind-numbing and because we are a global society now deeply connected through social media and mainstream media, people all over the world could gain some understanding of what a powerful earthquake this was and the subsequent very powerful aftershocks.

Entire streets of high-density buildings were absolutely flattened. Entire towns were wiped out. Whole fields of olive trees were swallowed up by the earth. The scale of the devastation is unlike anything I have seen before on social media. The devastation spread across around 350 000 square kilometres and claimed at least 52 000 lives. To understand that in a local context, to try to wrap our heads around such huge human loss, that is the combined population of Burnie and Devonport gone in a matter of seconds. Around 28 million people have been affected by these quakes, just a little more than the entire population of Australia.

One of the aspects of this tragedy that many people around the world found hard to fathom was how different the rescue operations were in the two countries. In Tȕrkiye it was a hugely difficult rescue operation, but the resources, the people and the equipment could move into those parts of Tȕrkiye that were struck relatively quickly, but just across the border in Syria, a country that has been smashed by more than a decade of war, the rescue effort was much more patchy and there were fathers digging through the concrete and rubble of their former homes trying to find their families, their wives and their children, and they waited and waited for help.

There were some 60 000 rescuers who travelled from all over the world, particularly into Tȕrkiye, but then the rescue operation reached into Syria and, amidst the horror that we witnessed, there were these moments of hope, as Ms White was talking about before, where children, babies, people who had been trapped under the rubble for three, four, five, eight days, were rescued, and it was extraordinarily uplifting to see those rescues.

Some of the unsung heroes of the rescue efforts was the third rescuer. The role that sniffer dogs played in finding people cannot be overstated. Those loyal dogs worked tirelessly to rescue people. There were images of dogs with their feet cut, bleeding and bound still going into the rubble to try to save more lives.

There were between 50 000 and 60 000 buildings destroyed in the first two or three quakes and the after-shocks. We need to acknowledge the role that corruption has played in the suffering of the people of Türkiye and Syria where buildings were allowed to be built to a poor standard which led to a much higher loss of life. We also need to acknowledge the corruption of the Assad regime, which was holding up desperately needed aid for his people and trying to channel it through Damascus so the regime could take what it wanted from that aid effort.

There was a beautiful scene at a football game in Istanbul last week where thousands of people hurled toys from the stadium stands. There were two reasons they did that. One was for those toys to go to children in the stricken areas but it was also an expression of white-hot anger at Erdoğan's autocratic regime that allowed corruption and very poor building practices.

It will be a long, slow, incredibly hard road to recovery for the people of south eastern Türkiye and northern Syria. When we stand and make contributions on a condolence motion like this, you feel a bit helpless because how do we adequately express our grief and how do we help? I encourage members to contribute towards the recovery efforts being led by UNICEF and Red Cross, the outstanding work of the medical professionals on the ground from Médecins Sans Frontières.

As the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition have said, a tragedy at that scale that affects so many people, is a moving reminder of our shared humanity. We have seen in the rescue and recovery effort, countries, nations, people from all over the world, go to Türkiye and Syria to try to help to do what they can.

On behalf of the Greens, I express my great sadness over this tragedy and extend love, strength and support to people living in Tasmania from Türkiye and Syria. Know that this Parliament grieves with you, that this condolence motion is a genuine and heartfelt expression of the sadness that is beyond easy description.