In the early hours of Monday, February 6, residents living in southern Turkey and northern Syria were woken by violent shaking, collapsing buildings, and sweeping blackouts. The earthquake buried residents in rubble and was followed by powerful aftershocks. By the following Monday, the death toll had passed 36,000 people. “It was like the apocalypse,” Abdul Salam al-Mahmoud, a resident of Atareb, Syria, told Reuters.

The country is no stranger to quakes, having lost 17,000 people to a 7.4-magnitude tremor in 1999. But while last week’s earthquake was a 7.8-magnitude quake, and had an unusually strong 7.5-magnitude aftershock, the reason this earthquake is so deadly has less to do with its power, and more to do with the preexisting circumstances of the affected communities and the lack of preparation for disaster.

Freezing temperatures, road blockages, and social unrest are complicating humanitarian aid and recovery efforts, despite having more than 100,000 rescue personnel in Turkey and Syria. The earthquake damaged the only official humanitarian aid route in the northern parts of Syria, delaying delivery of aid to Syria. And in Turkey, a primary port in the southern part of the country suspended operations the day after the earthquake due to a quake-related fire. These obstructions lead to a bottleneck effect, where aid is unable to reach the people it was intended to help, said Margaret Traub, the head of global initiatives for International Medical Corps, which is currently assisting Syria and Turkey’s disaster response. (The US has temporarily lifted its sanctions on Syria for 180 days to usher in aid.)

In Turkey and Syria, the high concentration of old, inflexible, concrete buildings, the lack of construction oversight, the Syrian civil war, and an ongoing cholera outbreak have left the region vulnerable to devastation. “You already had areas where people were displaced and living in temporary shelters,” said Traub. “In many ways, they’re already really compromised going into the disaster, and now they’re doubly displaced, and don’t have their support mechanisms.”

This is what happens when you end up on the wrong side of the disaster divide, which explains how unequal losses experienced by certain communities and countries following a natural disaster are chiefly due to the discrepancy of wealth and resources, limiting the ability to invest in the very things — strong buildings, weather prediction, rapid humanitarian response — that would prevent deaths. There’s a reason that 90 percent of disaster deaths between 1996 and 2015 occurred in low and middle-income nations, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction found. It’s not that rich countries are somehow exempt from extreme weather and geological events. It’s that the lack of wealth, and everything it can buy, is what makes a quake or a hurricane or a tornado disastrous, more than the sheer strength of a storm or how high a quake scores on the Richter scale.

Read the full article about wealth inequality and disasters by Rachel DuRose at Vox.