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“The response of local teams was nothing short of astonishing”

Türkiye-SYRIA EARTHQUAKES

“The response of local teams was nothing short of astonishing”

Six months after devastating earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria, Red Cross continues to support people on the road to recovery.

Three and a half hours.

That’s the length of the drive from Gaziantep to Antakya, two cities in southern Türkiye close to the epicentre of the devastating earthquakes that struck in February this year.

As we drove, I looked out the window at the countryside that sped by and was struck by what felt like endless destruction; destroyed buildings, ruined homes, hundreds of tents, and container cities. Mile after mile, town after town.

Even now, six months on, the magnitude of the disaster is difficult to grasp until you see it with your own eyes.

In June, I had the opportunity to visit the earthquake zone in southern Türkiye as part of an Australian Red Cross monitoring trip, to check on the progress of activities funded by donors like you and the Australian government.

It’s hard to comprehend the profound impact the earthquakes have had on the people of Türkiye and Syria until you’re amongst the rubble of once thriving neighbourhoods, witnessing the destruction and seeing how it has changed people’s lives forever.

“Every Turkish person has been affected by this catastrophe,” remarks a colleague from Turkish Red Crescent. “Everybody knows someone who was lost or knows someone who lost someone. The heart of the Turkish people is broken.”

The numbers are hard to read, and hard to comprehend. Across both countries, nearly 60,000 lives were lost, and in Türkiye alone, 4.3 million people remain displaced. On the other side of the border, Syrians who have endured more than a decade of conflict must now contend with this new disaster.

Yet, despite the challenges, I was struck by an undeniable sense of determination within local communities to recover and rebuild. And since day one this has been supported by staff and volunteers from Turkish Red Crescent, Syrian Arab Red Crescent and specialists from around the world who have been tirelessly responding to the urgent and changing needs of affected people. And they will continue to be there for the weeks, months and years ahead as both countries move towards recovery.

Through the generosity of thousands of Australians, over 5.8 million dollars was raised to support those communities most in need in the emergency response, and now during their recovery – through Red Crescent local staff and volunteers on the ground. So what does this work look like?

As we were driving around the earthquake-affected regions, the sheer scale of the response operation led by Turkish Red Crescent became clear. Perhaps the biggest aspect of the response in Türkiye has been the “mass feeding” – the preparation and distribution of hundreds of millions of hot meals. The Turkish Red Crescent was tasked with this role by the Turkish Government, and it was a job they took on with incredible pride and determination.

With so many homes destroyed and with 4.3 million people displaced, the provision of hot meals has been critical in the first phase of the response. We had the opportunity to visit some of the industrial-scale kitchens that Turkish Red Crescent have set up in universities, community centres, and camps, where they are able to prepare and deliver 60,000 meals three times a day, amounting to an astounding 360 million meals since February.

We also visited a container camp that has been designed to house people who have been displaced by the earthquakes. Operated by Turkish Red Crescent, this camp comprises of 530 containers, providing shelter, running water, grey water, electricity, and air conditioning to nearly 2,000 people. The camp also provides areas for recreation, relaxation, and religious activities. There is also a dedicated Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) tent, staffed with psychologists, translators, and psychosocial support personnel, helping adults and children at the camp to process their grief, fear and anxiety.

Over the border, Syrian Arab Red Crescent has been instrumental in providing assistance to those who need it. They’ve been distributing essential relief items, providing clean drinking water, providing over 2.4 million people with medical services, and extending mental health support to those who have experienced this traumatic event, giving them an opportunity to process what they’ve been through.

The scale of the earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria was almost too much to comprehend. But to witness the response of the local teams on the ground was nothing short of astonishing.

I am reminded that despite the immense scale of this disaster, it is in moments like this that the best of humanity shines through.

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