‘Biggest Disaster In The Last Century’: Turkey-Syria Earthquake Death Toll Soars

The death toll from the earthquake which struck Turkey and Syria on Monday surpassed 35,000 in what Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan called the “biggest disaster in the last century.” 380,000 people in the region have been left homeless due to the 7.8 magnitude earthquake an its many powerful aftershocks. The Turkish government is now facing heavy criticism as Soli Ozel, lecturer at Kadir Has University in Istanbul, says “This government was just not prepared.” President Erdogan is being accused of a lack of preparation and a sluggish response to the disaster. Even Erdogan himself has admitted “the first day we had some discomforts,” before insisting to survivors near the quake’s epicenter, “second day, and then today, the situation got under control.”

Ozel says it goes further though, as national funds meant for natural disasters were instead spent on highway construction projects promoted by Erdogan. In 1999, Turkish authorities imposed an earthquake tax meant to collect funds for disaster prevention and relief. But political opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu explained, “They grease their cronies’ palms with earthquake taxes. Where is that money? It’s gone.”

According to NPR:

Ozel says it’s not just a “near-total incompetence on preparedness on the part of the government” in responding to this week’s earthquake. “To make matters worse, if that were even possible,” he says, “the government is also making it almost impossible for other organizations, civil society, citizens themselves and mayors and municipalities to actually help.”

Erdogan’s centralization of Turkey’s government has meant a plethora of restrictions on how individual cities and aid organizations can operate in the country, hampering overall rescue efforts. (Turkey’s embassies, meanwhile, along with an array of nongovernmental organizations and cultural associations, are collecting donations internationally.)