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What Causes Earthquakes and How They Affect People

The news of the recent earthquake that shook Turkey and Syria astonished and saddened people worldwide. With the death toll nearing 42 000, our hearts go out to the victims and their families. Efforts are still being made to find survivors trapped among the rubble, while many who survived the earthquake with little or no injuries find themselves homeless.

The impact of earthquakes and aftershocks are long-lasting and multifaceted. Here are why quakes are considered among the most devastating natural hazards.

Earthquake 101: What are They and How do They Happen?

First, let’s touch on what exactly an earthquake is. An earthquake is a shaking of the surface of the earth from pressures generated by extreme stress from the earth’s crust. That stress can be caused by volcanic activity or even man-made activities such as mine blasts. Generally speaking however, most earthquakes are tectonic earthquakes

where the plates push against each other and get stuck from friction. The sudden release of the pressure between the two plates causes the earth to shake.

Such is the case in the Turkey/Syria earthquake. The Arabian plate underneath Syria pushed northwards, grinding against the Anatolian plate where Turkey lies.

Photo of a crane pulling rubble out from a pile of what is left of a building.
Photo of a crane pulling rubble out from a pile of what is left of a building.

How do Earthquakes Affect People?

Earthquakes can have a direct impact and a secondary impact that affects people. The extent of the damage depends on the local condition where the earthquake strikes. Here are six ways earthquakes can leave a lasting scar.

1. Loss of Life

Death resulting from the collapse of buildings on top of people is an obvious and direct consequence of earthquakes. People can also become trapped without food, water, or oxygen. Even treatable injuries can become deadly when help doesn’t come in a timely manner.

The shaking from quakes can also cause tsunamis, landslides or fires from gas line ruptures. Loss of lives from these calamities are an indirect result of earthquakes.

Loss of loved ones changes the lives of those left behind for a lifetime. Family dynamics are never the same, and the survivors carry a sadness from missing ones that passed.

2. Social Impacts

Earthquakes damage not only homes but other infrastructures that keep society running. Structures such as roads, bridges, hospitals, community centers, schools, parks, places of worship etc. Damage or destruction to infrastructures keeps people from accessing services or resources they need.

More than one million people are homeless in Turkey and Syria due to the earthquake. It will take years for these displaced people to rebuild their homes and their lives. Those with low or even middle income might never be able to regain what they have lost.

Homelessness and loss of personal property will lead to an increase in crime like looting. In desperation to survive, some are driven to take drastic steps.

3. Injuries and Disease

Those who are lucky enough to walk away with their lives after an earthquake might have sustained injuries as a result. Injuries not addressed by medical personnel in time can lead to long-term disability or functional impairment. Complications from injuries can arise for various reasons.

In the chaotic aftermath of an earthquake, there is a lack of access to functional medical facilities or equipment. Furthermore, the need of people who require medical attention outnumbers the number of medical personnel available. Even minor injuries can become problematic under these circumstances.

Sanitation and clean drinking water is a critical issue for earthquake victims. Water pipes and sewage pipes are damaged, leaving survivors without clean water or wastewater removal. They are at risk of waterborne diseases, which are particularly deadly for children.

4. Mental or Psychological Effect

Surviving an earthquake, especially as big as the one that took place in Turkey/Syria, is a traumatic experience. Imagine being trapped inside a collapsed building or seeing your loved ones trapped or missing, not knowing if they are dead or alive.

The fact that the Turkey/Syria earthquake occurred in the early morning hours when people were inside and sleeping, makes the survivors feel unsafe going to bed. The numerous aftershocks keep the body in fight or flight mode, reminding them their world is a dangerous place.

Some might experience intense fear, nightmares, and flashbacks, or they continuously experience the event in their head. In time, physical injuries will heal, but those who suffer mentally will continue to experience pain unless they find help to heal from their trauma.

5. Economic Impacts

Earthquakes cost a lot. Governments need to clean up, and rebuild damaged housing and infrastructures, as well as tend to the needs of survivors in the short, medium, and long term.

The cost of the damage for Turkey from the earthquake is estimated at $84.1 billion - $70.8 billion from the repair of thousands of homes, $10.4 billion from loss of national income and $2.9 billion from loss of working days.

The economic damage varies depending on the country. Capital assets and infrastructure such as housing, schools, factories and equipment, roads, dams and bridges are lost. Human capital is depleted due to the loss of life, the loss of skilled workers and the destruction of education infrastructure that disrupts schooling.

6. Environmental Effects

Earthquake-induced landslides can cause huge clouds of dust that can lead to infection with fungus’s spores “Coccidioides Immitis.” This is a very deadly disease called coccidioidomycosis or Valley Fever.

Broken water pipes caused by earthquakes can rupture gas lines, flood lands, and break fuel and electrical lines, which can lead to a fire. Also, spilled hazardous material introduces radioactive, medical, sewage, and poisonous material into the water, air, and earth.

Final Thoughts

Taking into account the different ways earthquakes can affect the survivors, society and a country, one can understand the enormous task of helping Turks and Syrians get back on their feet. The road to rebuilding is a long one, but many hands make light work. Consider joining LIFE in our efforts to supply the people of Turkey and Syria with shelter, food, water, and other living essentials. Every contribution is greatly appreciated by those recovering from this devastating disaster.

Photo of a Syrian baby girl smiling and hopeful.
Photo of a Syrian baby girl smiling and hopeful.



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