Concern's Kieran McConville reflects on the phenomenon of disaster anniversaries and why they are important, and looks back at 12 months of recovery work in Türkiye and Syria, one year on from the tragic earthquakes of February 6th.

“Anniversary” seems like a strangely inappropriate word to mark the passing of a calendar year since the day Türkiye and Syria were rocked by two massive and deadly earthquakes. But technically that’s what February 6th is. “The annually recurring date of a past event, of personal or historical importance” is what the dictionary says, and in this case it’s painfully accurate.

This is both a significant historical event and also a deeply personal milestone for so many individuals.

People wait anxiously for news of survivors in the wake of the Turkey earthquake
Families wait anxiously for news of survivors under a collapsed building in the Turkish city of Adiyaman. Photo: Kieran McConville

One of the largest seismic shocks ever recorded in the region, it left one and a half million people homeless and many millions of others deeply traumatized. For nearly 60,000 people, February 6th will forever be the anniversary of their passing.

Humanitarian organizations often use anniversaries like this one to remind the wider world of the situation facing affected populations, and to highlight an ongoing emergency response. It may seem crass, but it’s often the only opportunity to draw attention after the headlines have moved on.

Man with crutch walks past collapsed building after Turkey earthquake
Tens of thousands of buildings collapsed across a wide area. Photo: Kieran McConville

As it happens, I was on my way to Ukraine in early February 2023 to help mark one year since the escalation of hostilities there, and the subsequent humanitarian crisis. Instead, I found myself flying into a small regional airport just outside Sanliurfa in southeastern Türkiye, to help tell the terrible story of what had happened there.

And it was terrible. An area of about 140,000 square miles was impacted, and the sheer scale of the destruction was hard to comprehend. Estimates say that 14 million people were directly affected. That’s equivalent to the populations of Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City combined.

Cities like Adiyaman and Hatay were literally shaken apart, leaving people wandering dazed and confused amid the rubble, as rescue crews worked desperately around the clock to save those trapped beneath collapsed buildings. Their work was heroic, but mostly unsuccessful. And it wasn’t just the urban centers. Driving along rural roads, we saw mile after mile of destruction. It seemed endless. The stories we heard from the survivors were heartrending. In some areas, freezing temperatures added to their misery.

Ice forms on a partially collapsed building in Turkey after the 2023 earthquake
Ice forms on a destroyed building in the Turkish city of Malatya, which was hit badly by the Feb 6th earthquake. Photo: Kieran McConville/Concern Worldwide

Miraculously, all of Concern’s staff in the region survived. Many were directly affected, either losing family members or being left without a place to live, or both.

But the real miracle that I witnessed and that has been ongoing over the past year has been the way my colleagues responded to the crisis. Literally within hours, they had mobilized to put together an immediate ad-hoc response, cooking and delivering hot food, water, blankets, and other supplies to those worst affected. A team experienced in dealing with the long-running refugee crisis caused by conflict across the border in Syria suddenly found themselves at the center of a sudden-onset emergency. And they excelled in their response.

Contribute To Concern's Emergency Fund

Emergency supplies being delivered after the 2023 earthquake in Turkey
Concern staff at an emergency distribution of essential supplies in a rural area. Photo: Kieran McConville

Concern has a global disaster response team that will drop everything at a moment’s notice to go where they’re needed. Specialists in logistics, water and sanitation, shelter, and protection began to arrive from around the world and apply their expertise to this mammoth task. But the backbone of an operation that in the past 12 months positively impacted the lives of over 375,000 people has been the relentless, tireless work of the men and women of Concern Worldwide Türkiye.

Delivering supplies in post earthquake TurkeyConcern Worldwide staff member with a woman affected by the 2023 Turkey earthquakeConcern Worldwide  staff members in TurkeyConcern worldwide staff member visits a home in rural Turkeyafter the 2023 earthquakeConcern Worldwide staff with a woman affected bye the 2023 earthquake
Concern team members at work over the past 12 months. Photos: Yasin Almaz, Eugene Ikua, and Kieran McConville

In the year that has elapsed, Concern teams in Adiyaman, Hatay, Malatya, Gazientep, and Sanliurfa have erected tents, installed latrines, built clean water systems, provided food, household goods and hygiene supplies, established psycho-social services, and delivered cash payments to families who lost everything in an instant on that fateful day. Similar work has been happening across the southern border, in partnership with local Syrian organizations.

The people of Türkiye and Syria will live with the consequences of what happened on February 6th, 2023 for decades to come. Already, they have demonstrated amazing resilience and determination as they set out on the long road to recovery. Concern teams will continue to help those worst affected, and no doubt each year they will pause on this anniversary to remember those who were lost... and celebrate those who survived.

A Concern Worldwide staff member in Turkey

Get Stories Like This One Straight To Your Inbox