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The Guardian view on the Turkish-Syrian earthquake: tragedy on tragedy | Editorial

Many of those affected by the devastating shock have already suffered due to the war in Syria. They need help

Though the full scale of the catastrophe is still emerging, the earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria in the early hours of Monday morning is already known to have been one of the most deadly in decades, claiming thousands of lives. A 7.8-magnitude temblor is extremely powerful, and all the more damaging when it strikes at a relatively shallow depth and is followed by a second major shock. But even when disasters are natural in origin, their impact is shaped as much by human actions before and in the aftermath as they are by their inherent force. Poor and otherwise vulnerable people are almost always disproportionately affected.

Photos and footage testify to the terrible destruction wreaked on the Turkish side of the border, where the highest death toll is currently recorded. Bitter winter storms have worsened the plight of survivors. Among the victims will be some of the 4 million Syrians who fled the war; many have been living in southern Turkey, often in overcrowded conditions. More remain in northern Syria, where war has pulverised homes and essential infrastructure, and traumatised the population. Millions have taken refuge in rebel-held Idlib, where most of them are dependent on aid. Then came the Covid-19 pandemic and a cholera outbreak, which a threadbare health service in Idlib – deliberately targeted by airstrikes – is struggling to handle. Fuel shortages and skyrocketing prices have deepened the misery. Now those battling with freezing temperatures and inadequate food have been left without even temporary homes. This is, as the International Rescue Committee has warned, “a crisis within multiple crises”.

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