Building Back Better: Türkiye's Path to Post-Earthquake Recovery

Published: Feb 4, 2024 Reading time: 6 minutes
Illustration shots - impact of the earthquake on the city of Antakya in southern Turkey.
© Foto: Petr Štefan

The Türkiye-Syria 7.8 and 7.5 magnitude earthquakes of 6 February 2023 stand as the fifth-deadliest of the 21st century. What's more, this was the deadliest natural disaster in both countries' history, affecting the lives of nearly 16 million people. 

The earthquakes led to 57,000 fatalities along with tens of thousands of injuries. Türkiye bore the brunt of the devastation as it endured approximately 51,000 fatalities. Adding to Türkiye's burden was the loss of approximately 273,000 buildings, leaving 2.3 million people homeless; on top of this catastrophe, about 3.3 million people were displaced. According to the Grade report, the earthquakes caused an estimated $34.2 billion in direct physical damage. In addition, it is estimated that the costs for recovery and reconstruction in Türkiye will surpass $81 billion.

One year on, the profound impact of that day lingers; the repercussions and humanitarian needs driven by the disaster remain present—and, in many cases, unmet.

Our Immediate Intervention

Immediately after the earthquake, our team started to conduct field visits and assess the needs in Adıyaman, Hatay, Gaziantep, and Kahramanmaraş Governorates.

Initially, our goal was to reduce the immediate impacts of the earthquakes on the people. We provided them with essentials for everyday needs. Understanding the widespread damage to water and sewerage infrastructure and the health consequences that stem thereforth, we distributed around 2500 hygiene kits. We also installed around 500 latrines, along with 950 latrine cleaning kits. On top of this, we also provided 5600 households with non-food items kits. 

This work was made possible through funding from our People in Need Club of Friends and SOS Earthquake Syria and Türkiye, along with the support of our donors such as Stichting Vluchteling (SV), USAID's Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance via our Alliance 2015 partner Concern Worldwide.

"When we received these toilets, our lives got a little bit easier. And when we got the hygiene kits, we were able to ensure our safety and hygiene," says Khalil, a Syrian man living in a tent in Türkiye after the earthquake left him and his family displaced. 

On top of our hygiene support, we provided protection against the cold and darkness—a vital task in bitterly cold February. To this end, we provided 1200 electric heaters, 1100 solar lights, 1500 blankets, 1000 electrical water heaters, and around 9000 pieces of essential clothing, such as socks and underwear. To ease the logistics of this aid, we also donated four electrical pallet trucks. 

Sustainable Recovery and Empowerment

Whilst we worked to provide immediate relief, we also maintained a focus on the longer-term recovery of affected communities from the beginning of this disaster. We understand the need for sustainable solutions. Therefore, we initiated programmes to empower individuals and rebuild livelihoods; such programmes ensure that our support transcends temporary aid.

The scars left in the aftermath of the earthquake aren't just physical; they're emotional, too, which can sometimes be the hardest to heal. The majority of the people in the earthquake-affected areas need psychological support, regardless of their age. Our goal is to prevent Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and reduce people's stress and anxiety levels.

We provided around 3500 individuals with Psychosocial Support (PSS) to aid their healing journey by creating a safe and nurturing environment where they can process emotions and regain stability in their lives. 

After addressing the immediate necessities of shelter, hygiene, and warmth, our efforts shifted toward the economic recovery of the affected communities. And with the impact of the earthquake on the economy, we—with the support of Doosan Bobcat, Stichting Vluchteling (SV), the Decathlon Solidarity Fund managed by the King Baudouin Foundation (KBF), and The National Lottery—launched a Small-Business Grant programme. This programme supports around 1550 local entrepreneurs who lost their businesses in restoring their livelihoods and with it, vital services to their community.

"The grant was like a medicine for me, a lifeline; it allowed me to purchase the necessary equipment and tools for my shop, along with the materials needed for toast. I was able to stand on my feet again," says Emine, a local toast shop owner explaining the importance of this support to her.

"Despite the sorrows and challenges, my outlook is positive. I'm a strong woman, and I will do whatever it takes to support my family and achieve our dreams; we cannot lose hope or give up," she adds as she sheds light on the importance of being strong in the face of such challenges. 

Vedat lost his entire family—including his wife and children—along with his house and restaurant. He now has 2 full-time employees, where he used to have 4. "Seeing our employees working to support their families is what keeps me motivated to work and continue this journey," he adds. 

Despite the support we provide, business owners are still facing tremendous obstacles as their businesses are now based on modified shipping containers. These containers cannot stand the very high temperatures or the heavy rains of this region. Problems such as the small size and the locations of the containers make it difficult to conduct business. The containers are far from the city centre where people usually go to shop, and the size limits both the inventory that can be stored and the number of customers that can be served.

"The grant enabled me to purchase sewing machines; these were essential for me to restore my livelihood," says Nurten, who has been working in this field for over a decade. Nurten, who has been making even her own clothes herself. Explaining some of the hardships she is facing in her new container-based-shop. "There is no place for me to put my new sewing machines here, so I placed them in my friend's shop; I regularly go there to work on new products and bring them here to sell." 

 Looking Ahead to Building a Brighter Tomorrow Together

As we reflect on the year that has passed, our focus shifts from immediate relief to laying the foundations for a sustainable future. New needs of those impacted by the earthquake are still emerging.

The journey ahead will be filled with both challenges and opportunities for growth. Our next steps involve not just rebuilding structures but also reinforcing the social fabric of our communities. Plans for establishing a community centre are underway; this will foster community engagement, social cohesion, and economic empowerment. This centre aims to be more than a physical space; it aspires to be a hub of hope, learning, and growth for all, primarily focusing on empowering women, youth, and the most vulnerable.

Looking ahead, the need for solidarity, support, and collective action remains paramount. Our path forward is shaped by our shared experiences of hardship and a unified commitment to building a stronger, more resilient community.

Autor: Muhammet Necip Şağar, Communication Manager for Northwest Syria and Türkiye

Related articles