The cameras have moved on and the headlines faded, but for millions of people affected by February’s earthquakes the story continues. We meet two families who lived through the nightmare and are now dreaming of better times to come.
Turkish miracle dog
“Normally, my son closes his door when he sleeps. On the day of the earthquake, he put a towel on the door, and it remained slightly open. It's like a miracle.” Binay Deniz is standing by a vacant lot in the city of Hatay, one of many gaping holes in the urban landscape of Southern Türkiye. There is nothing left of her family home, which collapsed in the early hours of February 6th during the region’s worst earthquake in a century.
But the miracle Binay refers to is the fact that her family survived, in part due to the efforts of a canine fluffer named Ares.
“The dog came through the open door and started jumping on the bed and licking my face — it was the first time I’d seen him so anxious,” Binay recalls. And so it was that she and her husband were awake and alert when seconds later the earthquake shook their house to pieces. “When the wall collapsed, we managed to get out.”
Life under canvas
Six months later, Binay’s family is one of tens of thousands across the region who continue to live in tents, as they ponder their future. In the days and weeks after the earthquake, cold weather was the enemy, but today they are coping with the scorching summer temperatures. And it’s been especially hot this year.
“At first, the priority was to get blankets and hot food to people who had been left homeless,” according to Concern’s Emergency Program Director, Ali Fuat Sutlu. “Now we are delivering fans and ensuring families have access to water and shelter.”
Binay’s tent is one of a number that make up an informal settlement of families displaced by the earthquake. It’s obvious that they have made a big effort to make this place feel like home, as they wait to rebuild their lives. There are flowers and ornaments and pieces of salvaged furniture, where neighbours sit together under awnings, drinking coffee and planning for the future. “I really love greenery,” Binay tells Mehmut from Concern. “It helps me breathe and improves my psychology.” People here are making the most of what they have, but it’s a tough reality.
The scale of the destruction is hard to process, spreading out across a 200-mile radius from the initial epicenters. Most of the more badly damaged buildings have since been demolished and the rubble removed. But there are also many apartment blocks and individual homes with serious structural issues, meaning they will remain uninhabitable without substantial repairs.
Concern has been working with a number of major donors and local and international partners to cater for the ongoing needs of those left homeless — and in many cases financially ruined — by the disaster. “We are supporting ongoing relief operations in some of the worst-affected areas, including Hatay, Adiyaman, Malatya, Sanliurfa, Maras, and Gaziantep,” says Ali Fuat Sutlu. “The teams have been putting in an enormous effort — it’s been incredible to see the level of dedication and humanity they have brought to their work.”
Don't forget Syria
Of course, natural disasters know no borders, and in this case many people in Northwest Syria also felt the full force of the earthquakes on Feb 6th and the subsequent aftershocks. Particularly badly hit was the Aleppo Governate, an area that has already seen more than its fair share of destruction, during a dozen years of military conflict.
We meet Ibrahim as he struggles to walk the short distance from the site where his home once stood to the local cemetery. His daughter Amira skips alongside with the carelessness of youth, chattering continuously to her Dad and holding one hand as he leans on a crutch with the other. They are going to visit the grave where Amira’s mother and younger brother now lie together, two more victims of a terrible tragedy that has brought so much heartbreak and misery.
Ibrahim suffered serious back and leg injuries when the family home collapsed and says that he and Amira were lucky to escape with their lives. ‘We were under the rubble for two hours. We dug our way out.” Since then, the pair have been living in a tent with few facilities and not much privacy.
Now they are moving to a new temporary home, one of hundreds provided by Syrian nonprofit Bonyan with support from Concern Worldwide. It’s what’s known as an RHU (refugee housing unit) and is specially designed to provide secure and spacious medium-term shelter for displaced families. It has a rigid frame, windows and vents, a lockable door and is quickly and easily assembled.
It’s clear that 29-year-old Ibrahim is troubled by the burden of his grief, the ongoing pain from his injuries, and the uncertainty that lies ahead. But as he and Amira sit on a rug salvaged from the rubble of their home, she obviously has no intention of letting him dwell too long on their problems. She playfully pulls at his arm, peppers him with questions, and jumps up to smother him with kisses. She is what will keep him going.
Standing with those affected
These are just two human stories among hundreds of thousands that are playing out across Türkiye and Syria, six months on from the earthquakes that ended so many lives and changed many more forever. Concern continues to stand with those affected, delivering clean water, latrines, hygiene kits, shelter, household items, psychosocial support, cash payments and other essentials to thousands of families on both sides of the border. This work is supported by your donations and a variety of institutional donors, including the U.S. Government through the Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, a division of USAID.