We are continuing our emergency efforts in Hatay that is one of the most gravely affected provinces from the earthquake; support lives of people affected from the earthquake prominently by meeting hygiene needs and improving shelter conditions*. The future is still unclear, life is still difficult, but the deep connection people of Hatay establish with each other and their provinces is sufficient for a gleam of hope.
It is estimated that 2 million 800 thousand people live in formal and informal shelters in the entire region affected from the Kahramanmaraş Earthquakes. In the entire disaster area, 70% of people living in formal settlements and 60% of people living in informal settlements live in Hatay, meaning that this province is home to the majority of people living in collective shelters. Although it has been 2 months since the earthquake, most of the destroyed or damaged buildings are still standing. Despite rubble removal works continue, There is still a lot to do.
Almost all of the people affected from the earthquake that we interviewed in Hatay are sheltered in front of their houses or at their neighborhoods. The answer to the question, “Would you like to move to tent areas or container towns?” is similar everywhere. At rural areas that work on agriculture and husbandry, where the neighborhood culture is intact, nobody wants to lose their local ties; live at anywhere else leaving their relatives, neighbors, garden, and house behind. We as Support to Life try to reach especially the scattered shelter areas at the rural regions. We distribute core needs such as hygiene, food packages, tent, clothes; install water tanks, mobile latrines and showers; take our mobile laundry unit around.
Gülden Helvacı who lives at Maşuklu Neighborhood is among the beneficiaries of mobile laundry unit. While we were casually chatting, she insisted to invites us to her tent and offers us some tea. It was impossible to decline her, so we follow Gülden. Gülden and her family whose house was completely destroyed at the earthquake, who spent their first few days after the earthquake in their cars, today stay at the tent that we provided them a few weeks ago. In the tents they established near their homes with their relatives and neighbors, they almost reestablished their neighborhood that was destroyed at the earthquake and try to meet all their needs together. Gülden summarizes what they experienced by saying: “Until 4 a.m. at February 6, we had everything, a car, a house … Now everything is under the rubble. Still, thank God we are alive.”
Esra and Sinan Baddur couple live in the tent we provided them with their two young children and families. Sinan says the hygiene packages from Support to Life met their needs and says, “There was no unnecessary items in the package, we used them all.” Their house has minor damages but they are afraid to go inside. Their young daughter is excited to be starting a primary school established at a field tent in a camp area nearby. Smiling at the happiness of their children, mother Esra mentions the uncertainty in every area of their lives and spells out her worries.
While we deliver relief items to disaster affected persons, we prioritize the most vulnerable parties. Pregnant women, families with young children, patients with chronic illnesses, the elderly, persons with disabilities are at the top of our priority list. In addition, we try to reach the socio-economically disadvantaged groups. The 11-person Halid family is one of them. House of the family, that came from Hama in Syria to Hatay 10 years ago and settled in Bozhöyük Neighborhood, completely destroyed at the earthquake. After the earthquake, the family started to live at the garden of a school in shanty tarpaulins together with the entire neighborhood but had to leave due to a tension that took place during relief items distribution. They settles at a field about a few kilometers away from the center of the neighborhood as a 50-person group. Ali Halid says until the Support to Life team arrived, they could access no support. We provided tents, hygiene and food packages in this area in addition to placing a mobile shower and latrine unit. Ali Halid says especially the shower and toilet were very useful and add that they somehow continue with their lives. However, at the end of our interview he bitterly mentions the upcoming Ramadan feast: “We used to work on the field and come together during the feast at our breakfast table. We used to buy the children new clothes as much as we could. In this feast it is difficult to even find food for breakfast.”
Samandağ which was frequently on the agenda on the first days of the earthquake with problems in both search and rescue operations and receipt of aid, is one of the places where destruction was felt the most deeply. And after this destruction there are many people that try to grow hope. One of them is teacher İlker Numal. When the educational institution he was working was destroyed with the earthquake, about 25 teachers got together, provided tents and education materials and started classes for exam preparation. Today approximately 300 young people that are studying to take university and high school entry exams receive education in these tents. Teacher İlker says this is both a learning and a living area: “The children also eat their meal here and stay until 10.00 p.m. So what if they go to the tents they live? They live together with 15 people. They cannot study there. Here they both live and study.” While they were having problems with toilets in the beginning, the latrines and water tank placed by Support to Life respond to hygiene needs in this tent area.
Another resistant teachers in Samandağ is Sami Karasu. Teacher Sami is preparing to open a classroom with other volunteer teachers like himself. They have already reached 400 students. Most of the buildings were fully collapsed at the street Karasu was living at Atatürk Neighborhood, that is one of the four most destructed neighborhoods of Samandağ. However, almost none of the people we interviewed want to leave. Teacher Sami explains why they would not go by saying: “We have to rebuild Samandağ. I am a teacher; I will try to do something about education. For example I have a hairdresser friend, he is opening his hairdresser shop. We are trying to regrow life here.”
Despite the destruction, losses, the urgent needs that are still current although it has been more than 2 months since the earthquake, life goes on at the disaster area. Hayrettin Altınok who lost his son and wife at the earthquake and whose daughter with hearing-impaired and 2 year-old grandchild were rescued from the rubble days later says “those that leave, come back, we cannot live at anywhere else,” and asks me to follow him. Together we go to his garden where they stretched tarpaulins to build a tent next to collapsed houses. The garden is green and in flowers. Lemon and orange trees, mint, spring onions, chicken in henhouse… Hayrettin describes them separately with passion. Spring has arrived here also.
We are continuing to support life in Hatay to improve lives of persons affected from the earthquake, ensure they can live in more humane conditions, and life grows back in Hatay with spring.
*Among organizations that support the humanitarian response of Support to Life mentioned in this article, there are international humanitarian organizations Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe and Caritas Germany.
Support to Life Communication Expert / Hatay