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More than 1.6 million still in need after Turkish and Syrian earthquake, charities report

07 August 2023

Six months on, families are still living in tents and shelters in sweltering heat

AP/ALAMY

People distribute water in central Defne, southern Turkey, on 3 August

People distribute water in central Defne, southern Turkey, on 3 August

SIX months after the violent earthquake and its aftershocks in Syria and Turkey (News, 10 February, 24 February), millions of children still need humanitarian aid, and more than 1.6 million people are living in tents or temporary shelters in searing temperatures, UNICEF has said.

At least 58,000 people died as a result of the earthquake on 6 February, 50,000 of them in Turkey. But, in Syria, where people were already living in dire conditions after years of brutal civil war, five million people were left homeless during the worst of the winter.

Many communities are still struggling with access to clean water; and vital infrastructure including water supplies and sanitation, has been destroyed. There are health and environmental concerns about dust and asbestos released from the piles of rubble that are being being cleared and dumped.

In a statement, UNICEF said that not only physical supplies were needed. “There remains a need for psychosocial support services for children and their caregivers to help them process what they have experienced and mitigate their risk of developing anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

The Southern European heatwave has also led to fires in the temporary camps. World Vision’s Syria response-director, Johan Mooij, said that 265,000 people in northern Syria were in need of housing. “Compounding this crisis, extreme summer heat has sparked a series of devastating fires. In just three days, there were over 40 fires, triggered by soaring temperatures.”

There had also been a cholera outbreak, he said. The charity is working with more than 800,000 people in Turkey and Syria.

UK donations to help earthquake victims passed the £151-million mark last week. The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), which co-ordinated the appeal, said that almost half the money had gone to providing cash payments to the 40,000 worst-affected households. Emergency food was sent to 201,000 people, and thousands have used mobile health clinics provided by aid agencies.

The DEC’s chief executive, Saleh Saeed, has just returned from Turkey. He said: “DEC charities are working tirelessly to help people cope and make life more comfortable. From mobile physiotherapy clinics helping people recover from their injuries to psychological support for children, to providing hygiene and sanitation to avoid the spread of deadly diseases — this is vital, life-changing help.

“Donations over the last six months have been remarkably generous and are helping DEC charities continue to address the people’s most pressing needs, on both sides of the border. It’s clear that it will be a very long road to recovery from this terrible disaster, but we met so many people in Türkiye who wanted us to thank the British public and all who have supported them.”

Christian Aid, which is represented on the DEC, said that, although the situation in the region had stabilised, people remained in real need. The cost-of-living crisis has also exacerbated the situation.

For the one of youngest victims in Syria, six months has brought happier news. Baby Afraa was found in the rubble of a collapsed building in Syria, still attached by the umbilical cord to her dead mother. Her father and four siblings also died. A video of her rescue went viral on social media, and charities were flooded with offers to adopt her. She has been adopted by her aunt and uncle, who are raising her with their seven children. The family live in a rented apartment by day, but continue to spend their nights in a tent, as the children are too traumatised by the earthquake to sleep indoors.

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