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Earthquakes in Turkey and Syria

24 Feb 2023

Recent earthquakes have caused devastation to southern Turkey and northwest Syria, resulting in significant loss of life as well as loss of essential infrastructure, including healthcare, water and sanitation facilities. 

  • On 6 February 2023 a major earthquake was reported 30 miles west of the Turkish city of Gaziantep. 
  • On 20 February 2023, a further earthquake was reported in central Turkey.

It is expected that aftershocks will continue to affect the area, though decreasing in intensity over the coming weeks and months. The UK Government, among others has responded with humanitarian aid and medical support.

In addition to infrastructure damage and loss of life, the impact from earthquakes can lead to outbreaks of infectious diseases over the coming weeks such as:

  • diseases spread by contaminated food and water if there is limited access to clean water and sanitation within camps, and/or electricity supplies have been damaged, which can affect safe food storage.
  • respiratory infections, such as COVID-19 and flu, which can quickly spread within campsites and temporary settlements where crowding due to cold weather is likely
  • diseases which are preventable by vaccines, including measles, diphtheria,  polio and meningitis.

Advice for Travellers

Anyone wishing to lend assistance in disaster areas should avoid travelling independently and instead approach appropriate professional aid organisations and charities for information and guidance on ways they can assist.

  • Well-meaning travellers may do more harm than good and place themselves at significant risk if they travel to a disaster area independently, without adequate preparation, training, or support.

If you must travel to any of the affected areas, you must consider the following advice:

Review the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) travel advice for the latest information relating to natural disasters and safety and security.

  • The FCDO currently advise against all travel to Syria and against all travel to areas of Turkey within 10km of the border with Syria.
  • The Turkish government has stated that only vehicles which carry aid teams and aid materials will be allowed to enter cities deemed to be inside the area of the disaster.

You must have comprehensive travel insurance, which includes evacuation and repatriation benefits prior to travelling to a disaster area.

  • Be aware that travelling to a country against the advice of the FCDO may invalidate your travel insurance.

Always check the country pages on fitfortravel for information on specific health risks relevant to that country, vaccine recommendations and information on known outbreaks of disease in that country.

  • If you are planning on travellelling to a disaster area, you should consult with a travel health advisor as soon as possible for advice on topics such as vaccinations and general health advice.
  • In addition, this may be a good opportunity to discuss how to treat common conditions such as travellers' diarrhoea; discuss accident prevention and personal safety; culture shock, mental health and other challenges which you may encounter as part of the crisis and how to manage these situations.

General travel health precautions

Health care systems are likely to be overwhelmed, therefore it is important to make sure you are in good health before you travel. Arrange for a check-up with your GP or specialist if you need to before travel and make sure you take enough medications to last the length of your trip and any potential delays.

Diseases spread by food and water

Eating or drinking food and water which has been contaminated by germs (such as viruses or bacteria) or harmful chemicals can cause illnesses such as travellers' diarrhoea, hepatitis A, typhoid or cholera infection. The risk of these illnesses increase if local water supplies and sewage (waste) systems have been damaged.

Infestations and diseases spread by insects

Always protect yourself against insect bites both day and night when travelling to disaster areas.

  • Skin infestations such as scabies or lice are transmitted through direct contact with others who are infected, and therefore may be an increased risk for people living in overcrowded camps at close quarters. Lice may transmit bacterial infections such as typhus.
  • Natural disasters can result in flooding. Puddles of water left by floods helps the conditions that mosquitoes, flies and other insects need to breed.

Risk of accident and injuries, and blood borne infections

Disaster areas are dangerous environments. Accidents and injury can occur from damage to buildings which may become unstable and collapse, or cause fires and/or explosions. Serious injuries which require local medical care or blood products may putting you at increased risk of contact with blood borne infections. Care must be taken to protect yourself from accidents and injuries from hidden dangers such as:

  • debris (such as fallen timber, metal, broken glass)
  • fallen live electrical power lines, potentially causing electric shock
  • dangerous chemicals which can cause poisoning and/or chemical burns
  • waste from sewage systems

Make sure you are up to date with tetanus and hepatitis B vaccinations, particularly if you plan to be working in rescue operations. See a travel health advisor before you travel if you think you may need vaccinations or boosters.

For additional information, see the Humanitarian Workers page.