2023 Turkey Syria Earthquake Case Study

AQA GCSE Geography > The Challenge of Natural Hazards > 2023 Turkey Syria Earthquake Case Study

When and where did the 2023 Turkey-Syria earthquake happen?

On February 6, 2023, a powerful earthquake struck southern Turkey and northern Syria. The epicentre was located near the town of Gaziantep in Turkey, close to the border with Syria. The earthquake registered a magnitude of 7.8, making it one of the most devastating earthquakes in the region in recent history.

A map to show the location of the Turkey Syria earthquake

A map to show the location of the Turkey Syria earthquake

Background on the Level of Economic Development

Turkey and Syria have differing levels of economic development:

  • Turkey: Turkey is classified as an upper-middle-income country (newly emerging economy – NEE) with a diverse economy with strong industrial and agricultural sectors. Despite regional disparities, it has a relatively well-developed infrastructure and emergency response capabilities.
  • Syria: Syria, on the other hand, is classified as a low-income country (LIC), especially after more than a decade of civil war that has severely damaged its infrastructure, economy, and social services. The ongoing conflict has left many areas in dire conditions, with limited capacity to respond to natural disasters. Before the civil war, Syria was a middle-income country (NEE).

What caused the Turkey-Syria earthquake?

The 2023 Turkey-Syria earthquake was caused by tectonic activity along the East Anatolian Fault, a major fault line that runs across southeastern Turkey. The East Anatolian Fault is a strike-slip fault where the Anatolian and Arabian Plate slide past each other horizontally. Strike-slip faults along plate boundaries are known as transform or conservative plate margins. The earthquake occurred due to the sudden stress release built up along this fault line over time. This movement caused a rupture in the Earth’s crust, releasing massive energy and resulting in severe ground shaking. The region’s complex geology, with multiple interacting fault lines, contributes to its high seismicity.

Conservative Margin Diagram Turkey Syria

Conservative Margin Turkey Syria

What were the primary effects of the Turkey-Syria earthquake?

The primary effects of the 2023 Turkey-Syria earthquake were catastrophic:

  • Building Collapse: Thousands of buildings, including homes, schools, and hospitals, collapsed. In Turkey, cities like Gaziantep and Kahramanmaraş suffered extensive damage. Approximately 6650 buildings were destroyed, with many more severely damaged. In Syria, towns such as Aleppo and Idlib, already weakened by war, saw thousands of buildings reduced to rubble.
  • Loss of Life: The earthquake resulted in a tragic loss of life. Initial reports estimated that over 50,000 people were killed. The death toll was particularly high in densely populated areas where buildings were not earthquake-resistant.
  • Injuries: In Turkey, over 107,000 people were reported injured, while in Syria, thousands more sustained injuries. The exact number in Syria is harder to determine due to the ongoing conflict and less comprehensive reporting.
  • Infrastructure Damage: Key infrastructure, including roads, bridges, and utilities, was heavily damaged. This hampered rescue and relief efforts, particularly in remote and conflict-affected areas of Syria.

What were the secondary effects of the Turkey-Syria earthquake?

The secondary effects exacerbated the disaster’s impact:

  • Fires: Fires broke out in several locations due to ruptured gas lines and electrical faults caused by the earthquake. These fires further destroyed buildings and claimed lives. One notable instance was the fire in the Iskenderun port, which led to significant damage and disruption in rescue and relief efforts. The fires were exacerbated by ruptured gas lines and electrical faults, posing additional hazards to already vulnerable areas and complicating the immediate response to the disaster.
  • Homelessness: Millions of people were rendered homeless, forced to live in makeshift shelters or temporary camps in harsh winter conditions, leading to additional health risks.
  • Economic Impact: The economic impact was severe, with businesses destroyed and economic activity disrupted. The cost of rebuilding and the economic losses were estimated to run into billions of dollars.
  • Health Crisis: The collapse of hospitals and health centres and the cold weather created a health crisis. Outbreaks of diseases became a concern due to poor sanitary conditions in the makeshift camps.
  • Aftershocks: The region experienced a series of powerful aftershocks, significantly impacting recovery efforts. The most notable aftershock occurred just nine hours later, measuring magnitude 7.5. It further devastated already weakened structures and complicated rescue operations. These aftershocks continued for weeks, with magnitudes reaching 6.7, adding to the destruction and hampering relief efforts. The aftershocks caused additional collapses of damaged buildings, triggered landslides, and led to further hazards such as gas leaks and fires. These ongoing seismic activities not only posed a continuous threat to rescue workers and survivors but also prolonged the psychological and physical stress on the affected communities.

Immediate Responses

The immediate responses to the earthquake were swift but varied in effectiveness:

  • Rescue Operations: Local people began to search for survivors in the rubble. Rescue teams from Turkey and international organisations mobilised quickly to search for survivors. Specialized equipment and sniffer dogs were used to locate people trapped under the rubble.
  • Local Business Contributions: The Turkish private sector also mobilized quickly, contributing over $11 million in in-kind donations. These donations included essential supplies such as blankets, tents, portable toilets, and mobile kitchens. Turkish businesses also assisted with accommodation, translation services, and transportation for humanitarian aid and rescue efforts
  • Emergency Aid: Emergency aid, including food, water, medical supplies, and blankets, was distributed. The government and NGOs in Turkey set up emergency shelters and field hospitals.
  • International Assistance: Numerous countries and international organisations provided aid, including rescue teams, financial assistance, and humanitarian supplies. This was crucial in Syria, where local capacities were overwhelmed. The United Nations launched significant financial appeals to aid the affected regions. The UN issued a $1 billion appeal to assist over five million people in Turkey, covering needs such as food security, protection, education, water, and shelter for three months. A $397 million appeal was launched for Syria to support nearly five million people requiring emergency relief. The UN’s efforts included delivering hot meals, tents, warm clothing, and medical supplies and providing psychosocial support and child-friendly spaces in the affected areas.

Long-term Responses

The long-term responses have focused on rebuilding and rehabilitation:

  • Reconstruction: Efforts to rebuild homes, schools, hospitals, and infrastructure are ongoing. In Turkey, there is a focus on constructing earthquake-resistant buildings to prevent future disasters. The World Bank approved $1 billion in financing to support Turkey’s recovery efforts. This funding is directed towards restoring essential public services and rebuilding resilient rural housing in the earthquake-affected areas.
  • Economic Recovery: Programs to support economic recovery, including grants and loans for businesses and individuals affected by the earthquake, are being implemented. With funding from Sweden, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) provided $4.5 million in grants to small businesses across the 11 worst-affected provinces. This program aimed to revive local economies by supporting small enterprises, with grants ranging from TRY30,000 (approximately $1,150) to TRY300,000 (approximately $11,500). The program also included business advisory services and vocational training to improve entrepreneurial skills.
  • Psychological Support: Mental health support services have been established to help survivors cope with trauma and loss.
  • Preparedness and Mitigation: Both countries are improving earthquake preparedness and response capabilities. This includes updating building codes, conducting public awareness campaigns, and improving emergency response systems.


  • Date and Location:

    February 6, 2023, near Gaziantep, Turkey, near the Syrian border.

  • Magnitude:

    7.8, one of the region’s most devastating recent earthquakes.

  • Economic Context:

    • Turkey: Upper-middle-income country (NEE) with strong industrial and agricultural sectors.
    • Syria: Low-income country, severely impacted by civil war.
  • Cause

    Tectonic activity along the East Anatolian Fault, a strike-slip fault between the Anatolian and Arabian Plates.

  • Primary Effects:

    • Building Collapse: Thousands of buildings were destroyed in Turkey and Syria.
    • Loss of Life: Over 50,000 fatalities.
    • Injuries: Over 107,000 injuries in Turkey.
    • Infrastructure Damage: Severe damage to roads and utilities.
  • Secondary Effects:

    • Fires: Fires from ruptured gas lines and electrical faults.
    • Homelessness: Millions rendered homeless.
    • Economic Impact: Economic losses in billions of dollars.
    • Aftershocks: Continued aftershocks, including a magnitude 7.5.
  • Immediate Responses:

    • Rescue Operations: Local and international rescue teams mobilised.
    • Local Business Contributions: Over $11 million in essential supplies.
    • Emergency Aid: Distribution of food, water, and medical supplies.
    • International Assistance: Aid from multiple countries and organisations.
  • Long-term Responses:

    • Reconstruction: Efforts supported by $1 billion from the World Bank.
    • Economic Recovery: $4.5 million in grants from UNDP for small businesses.
    • Psychological Support: Mental health services established.
    • Preparedness and Mitigation: Improvements in earthquake preparedness and building codes.


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