Australian engineers have been asked to contribute to the response and recovery from the devastating earthquakes that struck Türkiye and Syria on 6th February.
More than 35,000 people have been confirmed dead in the aftermath of the magnitude 7.8 and 7.5 quakes that shook communities on both sides of the Türkiye–Syria border.
For Australian engineers, a key part of the response is being directed through RedR Australia, a humanitarian response agency that counts Engineers Australia among its founding members.
“We are communicating with our humanitarian partners and assessing to understand the needs on the ground,” said RedR Australia CEO Kirsten Sayers.
“RedR Australia is a United Nations standby partner; we are in close communication, coordination and receiving various requests from UN agencies.”
A multifaceted response
Sayers said a broad range of engineering skills would be required in the response, and its 1000-person-strong roster is ready to deliver critical support.
“The response is going to be multifaceted. It is going to require engineering skills … civil, earthquake, logistics, WASH — all of these core engineering skills,” she said.
“But the response is also going to require other skill sets, because there will be a huge number of displaced people.”
These include public health experts and requests for support in sexual reproductive health and responding to gender-based violence.
“When there are displaced people in crisis, vulnerable people become even more vulnerable,” Sayers said.
The humanitarian response to the disaster is complicated by conditions in the region, such as the harsh winter temperatures, as well as the ongoing conflict in Syria and the resulting refugee crisis.
Sayers said there was just one crossing from Türkiye into Syria in the region, and the first convoy of international assistance only reached Syria overnight on 9th February.
“With so many people already facing difficult living conditions, health systems that were already on the brink of collapse have now been overwhelmed,” Sayers said.
“Thousands of buildings have collapsed in the two nations, including hospitals, and so there will be catastrophic repercussions for millions of displaced people in the region who were already relying on humanitarian support.”
A long recovery
The response is moving from the rescue to the recovery phase, and Sayers said that would involve building more resilience into the physical and social structure of the countries.
“Assessments will be done, UN agencies will provide essential support, there will be governments looking for support, there will be community organisations requiring assistance,” she said.
“It’s going to be a very long recovery, and then rebuilding, I would think that is going to be expensive.”
Sayers appealed for engineers who wanted to help to contact RedR Australia — particularly if they had skills in languages local to the region such as Turkish or Arabic.
“The ability to communicate in the languages of the region is really important,” she said.
“We’ve been working to bring local expertise into our roster. We also run our Essentials of Humanitarian Practice in Amman; we train locals in the Middle East to help them gain humanitarian experience, so they’re better equipped to respond to crises in their own region.”
RedR International and Australia Chair Robert Care said the organisation’s staff and roster members in the region were safe.
“Our focus now is on response and recovery efforts. We are maintaining coordination through the RedR International Federation and we’re on standby to respond,” he said.
“In addition to the immediate response, it is essential that we learn as much as possible from this event to support communities as they improve their resilience in this vulnerable region.“
Engineers Australia Chief Engineer Jane MacMaster highlighted the role of organisations such as RedR Australia and the Australian Earthquake Engineering Society as part of the profession’s response to disasters such as this one.
“The devastating news from Türkiye and Syria is heartbreaking and our thoughts are with our colleagues and friends — including MUDEK, Engineers Australia’s Turkish counterpart,” she said.
“The engineering profession is broad and it includes humanitarian engineering and earthquake engineering — two vitally important areas of practice that we should support at every opportunity.”
Engineers interested in contributing their skills to RedR’s humanitarian activities can apply to join the organisation’s roster at its website or investigate its training courses. RedR also accepts donations.
In my profession as an external plant engineer with Telecom (now retired and also a member of the Institute), I then devised a method of installing cable underground in limestone areas by using explosives and removing large ‘stones’ from the trench. These methods were successful in removing ton type boulders and I thought these methods may be of use in removing large heavy slabs of concrete from earthquake resultant areas where heavy machinery could in so doing, endanger the life of those trapped below.