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Forecast podcast: Desperation rises as Turkey-Syria earthquake death toll soars

Several people in safety gear are assessing the pile from a collapsed building. The pile looks to be about 60 feet tall and about 100 feet wide when compared to the lone person standing on it.

Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Halima Mansoor discuss the devastating earthquake that’s left thousands dead and tens of thousands injured in Turkey and Syria, plus more on a Texas judge deciding on an abortion medication case, an election in Cyprus, negotiations between the Colombian government and the rebel group ELN and China’s Sichuan province lifting restrictions on childbirth.

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This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Sophie Perryer, Jess Fino, Irene Villora, Vivian Wang and Halima Mansoor.  Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe

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Factal Forecast podcast transcript

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.


Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.

Today is Feb. 9

In this week’s forecast we’ve got a federal judge in Texas deciding on an abortion medication case, an election in Cyprus, negotiations between the Colombian government and a rebel group, China’s Sichuan province lifting restrictions on childbirth and a look at the devastating earthquakes affecting Turkey and Syria. 

You can also read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.

Texas judge decides abortion pills case

Information compiled by Sophie Perryer

JIMMY: As soon as tomorrow, a federal judge in Texas could render a decision that drastically alters abortion access in the United States.

It’s a case brought by a conservative legal group that seeks to limit the access to the abortion medication mifepristone. 

That drug was approved by the U.S. FDA in 2000 as part of a two-step medical abortion procedure. 

This case, filed in November 2022 by a group called the Alliance Defending Freedom, seeks to effectively reverse that approval by claiming both that the original decision was flawed and that it is not legal to send abortion pills through the mail. 

The case will be decided by Trump-appointed judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, who is known for his conservative views on abortion and LGTBQ rights as well as his work as an attorney with a conservative Christian legal group. 

Now, medical abortions have become more commonplace after the 2022 Supreme Court Dobbs ruling, especially in states where access to surgical abortions is limited. 

If the judge sides with the anti-abortion group, the ruling would force the FDA to pull mifepristone from sale and restart the approval process, which could take years. 

Two opposing cases have been filed in West Virginia and North Carolina that would seek to shore up FDA approval of mifepristone. 

If these cases produce a different result to the Texas suit, or appeals are filed, the Supreme Court with its conservative majority could be forced to make a final ruling.

Cyprus election run-off

Information compiled by Jess Fino

JIMMY: The presidential election in Cyprus will head to a second round on Sunday. The run-off comes after former foreign minister Nikos Christodoulides and independent candidate Andreas Mavroyiannis failed to secure the majority of votes last week.

According to exit polls, Christodoulides secured around 32 percent of the votes, while Mavroyiannis received 29.6 percent. 

Averof Neophytou, head of the right-wing ruling Democratic Rally party, came in third with 26 percent, which came as a surprise as many expected him to be one of the top two favorite candidates to progress.

Now, these elections, which had a record of 14 candidates running for president in the first round, are seen by some as the most significant poll since the country’s independence more than 60 years ago. 

Several crucial issues are dividing the voters, including the cost of living crisis, corruption and migration. 

The country’s ethnic division between Greek Cypriots and those in the Turkish-controlled northern part of the island also remains on the agenda. 

Finally, Christodoulides, who is backed by centrist parties that are keen to restart reunification talks, refused to rule out future coalitions with any party including the ultranationalist Elam.

Second round of Colombian government-ELN negotiations

Information compiled by Irene Villora

JIMMY: Representatives of the Colombian government and the National Liberation Army rebel group will meet in Mexico on Monday.

The meeting follows an initial round of peace talks held in Caracas, Venezuela, last December. 

Negotiations will resume with Spain as a newly added supporting country

Brazil will also join the guarantors list along with Chile, Mexico, Norway and Venezuela. 

The meeting follows a lapse of public tensions between the rebels and the government after President Petro’s administration unilaterally announced a bilateral ceasefire agreement, which was later denied by the guerrilla group.

Now, the agenda for the meeting is expected to cover social participation in peacebuilding, the conditions for a bilateral ceasefire, forced disappearances during the conflict and failures and achievements in previous negotiations. 

The rebel group’s top commander Antonio García has made claims that the group is not looking for a transition into politics as part of the peace process and has said a change in the Colombian government’s military doctrine is essential to achieve agreements.

China’s Sichuan province lifts restrictions on childbirth

Information compiled by Vivian Wang

JIMMY: Sichuan, one of China’s largest provinces, will no longer limit how many childbirths a person can register or restrict who can register new births starting Wednesday.

Sichuan’s new policy is only the latest in a gradual easing on childbirth restrictions in China since 2016, when the national government replaced its infamous one-child policy with a two-child limit

After seeing little success, Beijing went on to lift the cap to three children in 2021, but birthrates have continued to decline. 

In fact, China reported its first population fall in decades just last month.

The country’s shrinking, aging population is an increasingly urgent challenge for China’s policymakers, with potentially dire consequences.

Now, though this new policy affects Sichuan’s population of some 83 million people, it is not likely to make an immediate impact on China’s demographic crisis. 

High cost of living, lack of employment and changing social values among younger people in China remain major factors inhibiting population growth. 

Sichuan’s reforms, however, will likely improve the lives of unmarried parents and children born out of wedlock in the province, who will now be able to access vital public services previously barred to them.

Earthquakes along Turkey-Syria border

Information compiled by Agnese Boffano and Halima Mansoor

Interview featuring Halima Mansoor

JIMMY: Our last item for this forecast is on the devastating earthquakes along the Turkey-Syria border. For more on that I spoke with Factal Senior Editor Halima Mansoor.

JIMMY: Hello, Halima. 

HALIMA: Hi, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: So glad to finally have you on the podcast. Hoping you can get us caught up on everything we need to know about these terrible earthquakes, I guess to start, just how big were they?

HALIMA: So the first earthquake measured 7.8 and it hit the Turkish Mediterranean and southeastern regions around 4 a.m. local time Monday. This was near the Syrian border. Then a second shallower earthquake of magnitude 7.5 struck the same region nine hours later. That second earthquake and dozens of strong aftershocks caused more buildings to collapse. And keep in mind this was while residents and emergency services were trying to rescue people. So the second quake and the aftershocks buried even more people.

JIMMY: Now, I know the counts are just preliminary at this point, since rescue operations are still going, but do we have any idea on how many lives have been impacted by the quake so far?

HALIMA: Well, as you said, it is hard to quantify, but for now we know more than 15,000 people are dead, including more than 12,300 in Turkey and 3,000 in Syria. Another 68,000 people have been injured so far. This includes at least 63,000 in Turkey and 5,000 in Syria. One thing we should keep in mind, that all the tolls coming out of northwest Syria are combined ones from regime-held [areas] officials and rebel-held areas officials. And when you set aside the death tolls, there are then the people whose houses have become unlivable, and this could be because they collapsed or they’re too dangerous to enter again for the foreseeable future. So for some scale, I can say that the WHO says at least 23 million people may have been affected by Monday’s earthquakes. The health body expects a “serious increase”, they say, in the number of deaths because of the sort of scale of devastation across both countries.

JIMMY: Wow. Can you explain a bit about the areas involved?

HALIMA: So the areas that were hit in Turkey were not as developed as Istanbul in terms of infrastructure or population, but they did include some significant centers of trade and wealth. This includes Urfa and Antep. The Turkish provinces that were hit by the earthquake that are closer to the Syrian border have a more diverse population, which comprises of people who are of Turkish, Kurdish and Arab descent as well as other ethnicities. Then there’s of course Diyarbakir Province, which has been a witness to the Kurdish conflict for many years and is considered to be underdeveloped, even though there has been no active war there for years now. Then you look at northwest Syria, which is of course another story entirely. Syrians who live in northwest Syria were displaced by 12 years of war and are already living in very rough conditions. The area is controlled by the opposition groups, which is rebels as well as groups associated with some militants, and all of these are further split by infighting. So that means that the people living there are living in a war zone, which is not governed very efficiently to begin with. And this was before the earthquake even struck.

JIMMY: How have both countries responded to the devastation? You know, and for that matter, how has the international community responded?

HALIMA: Well, Turkey has deployed troops, its disaster agency, other arms of the government for the rescue efforts. And the international community has sent in rescue teams from multiple countries, including Israel, South Korea, Mexico, and a bunch of others. But it could still be said that the initial response from Turkey was disjointed and a bit slow. You would see this on social media, which was flooded after the first earthquake and the second earthquake with eyewitness reports that there was no help coming. People who were trapped under the debris were messaging their loved ones for help. And those messages were then circulating on social media by well-wishers or Turkish people just sending it to each other tagging the disaster agency to come step in and help these people, sending the addresses and stuff. But I suppose at this point, it is fair to say that in the months after this disaster, the Turkish people themselves will ask the question, did the government act quickly enough? To make matters worse, Twitter, which played a huge role in rescue efforts as I explained earlier, was blocked today as was TikTok. This resulted in more rescue work being hindered. When you look at Syria, on the other hand, international response itself has been scant. And as I explained earlier, the governance of northwest Syria split along multiple groups. So rescue efforts in the country have been split along the lines of the Assad regime and the White Helmets Civil Defense Agency. Now, the White Helmets have earned themselves a lot of respect for stellar rescue work during the war, but they are by no way equipped for this scale of disaster. And if you couple this disjointed response in Syria with the fact that access to northwest Syria to Turkey was initially closed and still remains limited, things are looking very difficult.

JIMMY: Well, I know there’s a ton to consider, but what do you think folks should be watching for next?

HALIMA: Well, as rescue efforts continue and thousands of people are still believed to be trapped under rubble in both countries, the survivors who are trapped are at risk of hypothermia as both regions are registering freezing temperatures. People have been found after being trapped for 50 to 60 hours, but there’s still a high risk. And that impacts both those who are survivors as well as those who are undertaking rescue efforts. Over in northwest Syria, entire areas, entire rebel-held neighborhoods, that already faced the, sort of like, the daily threat of war, are now tackling an even greater emergency. And this is while there has been an economic collapse, there is a lack of international aid, and the infrastructure has already been devastated because of war. Though, one thing I can say for sure is that we will all be watching for how this earthquake impacts the Turkish elections, which are coming up soon. People in Turkey are upset and they are questioning the response of the government. And their reaction might get worse in the coming months as people take stock of all that they have lost. We already see the Turkish government is cracking down on criticism over the last couple of years. They have established laws that critics say are meant to censor any sort of dissent. After the earthquake, the presidential communication directorate in Turkey was very quick to actually arrest people over tweets or social media posts that were called misinformation. And we saw that they shut down Twitter and TikTok today. So there is a sense that the government wants to control the narrative – and that is just ahead of the elections. In the past, in Turkey, a government’s response to a natural disaster would impact the outcome of the elections. So we all should watch for how the Turkish opposition leverages this and how the government responds to the people’s discontent.

JIMMY: Well, Halima, I think we’ll leave it there for today, but I thank you so much for helping us understand the size and scope of this disaster.

HALIMA: Thank you, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: Take care.

NOTE: The New York Times has published an article that highlights some of the ways you can contribute to organizations that are aiding the rescue and recovery efforts in Turkey and Syria.  

JIMMY: As always, thank you for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast and newsletter each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. Please subscribe and review wherever you find your podcasts. We’d love it if you’d consider telling a friend about us.  

Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Sophie Perryer, Jess Fino, Irene Villora, Vivian Wang and Agnese Boffano. Our interview featured editor Halima Mansoor and our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, if you have any feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing

This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed. 

Copyright © 2023 Factal. All rights reserved.

Music: ‘Factal Theme’ courtesy of Andrew Gospe

Top photo: A search and rescue team from Bulgaria works on the ground in Adana, Turkey, on Feb. 8 following the massive earthquake. (Photo: Bulgarian Civil Protection)

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