Three months after the Turkey-Syria earthquakes, Euronews spoke to humanitarian workers in the region about the ongoing needs of survivors. With the Turkish election on 14 May, the earthquake has dominated candidates’ campaigns.
On 6 February, southern Turkey and the bordering regions in northwest Syria were hit by two earthquakes of magnitude 7.8 and 7.6. Three months on, both countries are still struggling.
According to a report published by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 50,000 were killed and more than 100,000 were injured in Turkey alone. Nine million people have been affected – with 5.2 million in need of humanitarian assistance.
“There are more than 2.4 million people that are still in settlements; 800,000 in formal settlements and 1.2 million in informal settlements. Mainly containers and tents,” Regina De Dominicis, representative of UNICEF Turkey tells Euronews.
More than 100,000 buildings and homes were brought to the ground in Turkey, displacing many families. Many blame a government policy granting planning amnesties, meaning contractors could skirt building regulations.
But harsh weather conditions are also still affecting vulnerable areas in Turkey. On 20 April, tents and containers were damaged or blown away after a storm hit the Pazarcik area in Khramanmaras, leaving many families exposed to the harsh weather. Forty-four people were heavily impacted.
According to the United Nation’s situational report, around three million Turks were relocated. But 20 per cent of those who moved are now returning to affected areas.
“There is this anxiety about wanting to build back something, [and] building back better,” De Dominicis said. “[Famillies] have expressed their wish to come back. I think that’s very normal.”
This of course has a huge knock-on effect – especially for displaced children. In Turkey, 2.5 million have been separated from their families, and some have lost their parents. For UNICEF, providing psychological support and access to education is vital.
More hardship for Syria
As for Syria, after more than 7,000 deaths and 10,400 injuries recorded from the earthquakes’ impact, humanitarian efforts remain even more complicated within the context of an ongoing civil war in the region.
Aid comes through the Bab-al-Hawa crossing on the Turkey-Syria border, around 50 kilometres from Aleppo. Roads leading up to and along the border crossing however were heavily damaged by the natural disaster.
“What’s really key to remember is that it’s almost impossible to separate the needs which existed in northwest Syria before the earthquake from after the earthquake,” says Jennifer Higgins, the International Rescue Committee’s Syria communications coordinator.
“Even before the earthquake, at least 4.1 million people in northwest Syria, which is around 90 per cent of the population, were reliant on humanitarian aid to meet their most basic needs.”
Cash flow is also crucial. Since January, the UN has distributed more than €15 million to around 500,000 affected Syrians in the northwestern regions.
Both southern Turkey and northwest Syria’s water infrastructure is critical. Northwest Syria was already experiencing a cholera outbreak and lack of access to clean water will only allow diseases to spread further.
More psychosocial support across the board
Many survivors are also living with psychological trauma.
“It’s been estimated that around one million people in northwest Syria are in need of mental health support. But yet, reportedly there are only 24 psychologists in the area,” Higgins said.
“[People are dealing with] over a decade of dealing with very real physical and mental scars of the conflict, and now on top of that, we’ve had an earthquake. It affects people’s ability to be able to feel safe and secure. Many people will have lost homes, who have lost family members, they will have lost colleagues and friends, it’s such a difficult thing to deal with.”
And it’s not only bereavement: the region is also experiencing frequent aftershocks.
“We have a lot of experience,” De Dominicis told Euronews. “And we know the trauma doesn’t pass and it’s not linked to the three months time but requires a lot of time”.
Turkey heads to the polls on 14 May
Turkey’s economic outlook was far from perfect prior to the earthquake. A currency crisis and rampant inflation tanked the nation’s economy. Naturally, the earthquake has become a huge part of the debate, with the current government defending its response and the opposition arguing it has been too slow.
Incumbent president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan came to power 20 years ago amid public outrage over the then government’s handling of a previous earthquake. Now the tables appear to have turned and his political future is on the line.
Erdoğan will face off against opposition candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu in the presidential election. Kılıçdaroğlu is the leader of the social-democratic CHP and is backed by a six-party alliance.
No matter the outcome, whoever is in charge after the election will be responsible for the reconstruction of Turkey’s regions, as well as implementing plans for a better future.