Exactly one year ago, the earth shook in Turkey and north-western Syria and life came to a standstill for millions of people. The two earthquakes of magnitude 7.8 and 7.6 and their aftershocks claimed over 52,000 lives, millions were injured and from one day to the next were without a roof over their heads, without work, food, toilets or access to medical care. One year after the disaster, Solidar Suisse is still providing humanitarian aid on the ground. A visit.
Entire neighborhoods lie in ruins, curtains billow out of half-collapsed buildings from holes that were once windows. Countless excavators tower over the entire city, tearing down the remains of houses. Antakya, which was once one of the oldest and most important historical cities in the world, is now almost completely destroyed. In the province of Hatay, to which Antakya belongs, over 17,500 people lost their lives in the earthquakes on February 6, 2023. “The trauma of those who stayed and now often live in container settlements or tents still runs deep,” says Solidar Turkey representative Mahmut Sansarkan. “It will take a whole generation to overcome this trauma. And Antakya is just one example of many.”
SUPPORT REMAINS ESSENTIAL
According to the WHO, the earthquakes on February 6 were the worst natural disaster in the region in the last 100 years. In Turkey alone, 20 million people were affected, one in four inhabitants. In Syria, a country that has already been bled dry after years of war, almost 9 million people were affected.
Following the disaster, Solidar Suisse responded immediately and launched emergency humanitarian aid with two local partner organizations, the Syrian Women’s Network (SWN) and the Zero Discrimination Association (ZDA), which are active in Turkey and Syria. As a first step, we distributed food to the survivors in Antakya and other regions. Our priority was and still is to support people who were already in a precarious situation before the earthquakes and only have limited access to organized aid; the Roma community and Syrian refugees. In an informal Roma settlement in Kirikhan in Hatay province, we installed water, sanitation and hygiene facilities to reduce health and sanitation problems.
«It will take a whole generation to overcome this trauma.»
Hatice Öztürk and her mother lost her father and husband and all their belongings in the 2023 earthquakes and now live in a container where their house once stood.
RESTORING THE FOUNDATIONS OF LIFE
In Ahmethoca, a small village in Adiyaman, the neighboring province of Hatay, 50 people still live today. A third of the inhabitants were buried under the rubble of their homes in the earthquakes, and many left the village afterwards. Hatice Öztürk lost her father on February 6, 2023. “We were able to bury him in the village three days after the earthquake. Other relatives were buried in the town center,” says the 18-year-old. She and her mother did not want to leave the village afterwards and now live in a 20 square meter container on the land where their house once stood. Her mother says: “This is my home, this is where I was born and grew up. We can’t leave here.”
With the earthquakes, they not only lost their husband and father and their home, but also their livelihood: “In villages like Ahmethoca, people live from livestock farming and tobacco cultivation,” says Mahmut Sansarkan. “People keep goats to feed themselves and sell the products, milk, yogurt and cheese at the bazaar in the city.” To enable them to live independently again and earn an income, Solidar Suisse is working with its partner SARD to help them restore their former livelihoods. For example, by providing livestock. “The aim of the project is to give people back what they had before the disaster, to improve their lives and give them the opportunity to recover,” says Mahmut Sansarkan, who heads the Solidar coordination office in Turkey.
Because the disaster is still having an immense impact on people and sustainable support that enables the most vulnerable people to get back on their feet is crucial.
In north-western Syria, we are implementing a project with our partner organization Social Association for Relief and Development (SARD) to ensure that the most vulnerable people have access to decent living conditions and that children are protected. As part of the project, earthquake-damaged shelters and public infrastructure such as water supply and sanitation are being repaired. In addition, a safe area has been set up for children, where they can find psychological support and protection, among other things, to counteract early marriages, child labor or abuse.