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The sheer scale of the impact that February’s earthquakes have had on the lives of people in Türkiye (Turkey) and Syria is hard to grasp.
But, for the sake of comparison, imagine massive destruction across an area the size of the island of Ireland, fatalities equivalent to the population of Waterford, and homelessness of a scale greater that the populations of Dublin and Belfast combined. This was, and continues to be, a huge humanitarian disaster, and the effects will be felt for years to come.
Forced to flee home once again
Hhammad*, a father-of-eight, arrived with his family in the Turkish city of Adıyaman from Aleppo in Syria about ten years ago. There they had built a new life in exile from their home country. When the first earthquake struck at 4am on February 6, the family fled their home in panic and have not been able to return, due to the severe structural damage. Since then, they have been living in a temporary shelter on nearby land, alongside many of their neighbours.
During the initial four days, families pooled and shared what food was available, driven by the necessity to support each other, reminiscent of the lessons learned during the crisis in Syria. Neighbours helped each other construct makeshift shelters using whatever materials they could find.
Since they first arrived from Syria a decade ago, Hhammad has served as an unofficial community leader, a role that has become even more important in the aftermath of the earthquake.
"All the residents in this area can reach out to me comfortably. We continue to represent the refugee community in Adıyaman with the help of 2-3 individuals. There are around 300 tents and 180 families in this area."
A grocer by profession back in Syria, Hhammad opened a small grocery shop when he arrived from Syria and and today continues his business in the tented area, having lost his store in the earthquake. There are three other businesses besides him — a barber, a tailor, and skilled craftsmen. Hhammad says the community is trying to bring back some sense of normalcy and cover their living expenses.
Bonding over shared loss
One significant financial outlay that the displaced families have been saved is for the provision of water, latrine, and hygiene facilities. Those services have been provided by Concern Worldwide, through funding from EU Humanitarian Aid. Hhammad says they had previously been paying rent for nearby damaged houses, simply to have access to toilets and taps.
Amneh*, a 39-year-old mother-of-five, has also found solace in community. Her story is similar to that of Hhammad and so many others — a home lost to the earthquake and forced displacement to a tent on nearby land. Amneh says she is sustained by the strong bond that has formed between the women in her neighbourhood, as a result of shared loss.
There has been a sense of mutual support, making daily life more manageable. Since the financial constraints they face make it difficult for the children to continue their education, the women take turns to care for each other's children while engaging in various tasks.
The Concern team has also been facilitating psychosocial activities specifically aimed at children, to help improve their psychological well-being in the wake of the traumatic events of February and months of homelessness.
Four months on, much of the rubble from the earthquake has been cleared and mass demolition of dangerous structures is underway. For the hundreds of thousands living in temporary shelter, winter’s discomforts will soon be replaced by the extreme heat of the southeast Anatolian summer, when temperatures often top 40 degrees Celcius. Recovery is for many still an aspiration, but while they wait they are sustained by a sense of community and support from humanitarian organisations like Concern.
*Name has been changed