February 6th, 2024 marks one year since a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck southern Turkey and northern Syria, causing immense destruction and loss of life. As Turkey mourns the over 50,000 dead, the slow pace of reconstruction efforts and a lack of accountability for poor building standards leave many still struggling.
Turkey Holds Vigils for Over 53,000 Dead
On the earthquake’s first anniversary, Turkey held vigils and protests to commemorate the dead. As per the latest official figures, the combined disasters in February and March 2023 killed 53,000 people in Turkey alone (Source). President Erdogan joined prayers in the devastated province of Hatay, while many survivors expressed anger at poor disaster preparation and the slow response (Source).
“I envy people who have a grave to visit,” said Mecit Balaban, who lost 9 relatives to the quakes. “We could not remove the bodies from under the debris, from the rubble… They are still there” (Source).
Human rights groups criticized Turkey for failing to hold anyone accountable for thousands of deaths seemingly caused by shoddy construction standards (Source).
Slow Pace of Reconstruction Leaves Thousands Still Homeless
A year later, many Turks made homeless by the earthquakes still live in temporary shipping container shelters or tents, with limited heating and sanitation (Source). The Turkish government has spent billions on reconstruction, but progress has been slow and uneven across the 10 affected provinces (Source).
Experts blame this on bottlenecks in construction capacity, economic turmoil, and political conflicts between local administrations (Source). President Erdogan has threatened to withhold state reconstruction funds from areas that elect opposition mayors (Source).
|Estimated Homes Destroyed
|Homes Rebuilt after 1 Year
“If we cannot rapidly scale up our response, we risk condemning earthquake victims to homelessness for years to come,” warned the Norwegian Refugee Council (Source).
Syrian Refugees Face Another Harsh Winter
The situation remains desperate for many Syrian refugees in Turkey affected by the quakes. Turkey hosts over 4 million refugees who fled Syria’s civil war, including 1.7 million made homeless again by the disaster.
A year on, 3 in 10 displaced children in Turkey still lack stable homes, while needs have reached record levels across the border in Syria (Source).
Syrians struggle to survive another harsh winter in tents, abandoned buildings and damaged homes. “Catastrophic levels of destruction, combined with economic crisis, mean many earthquake victims have not received the lifesaving support they need,” warned CARE International (Source).
Orphans Face Grim Future Without Families
The earthquakes created some 3,700 orphans in Turkey and Syria. With limited state care options, religious charities house many children in dormitories instead of foster families. “They overload the children, they make them do military drills. This is not life for children,” said former teacher Senem Donmez (Source).
Syria’s “miracle baby”, Aya, rescued from rubble after 7 days, remains hospitalized on life support with no relatives to claim her. 50 more severely disabled orphans marked the anniversary housed in a Red Crescent center, with unclear futures (Source).
Long Recovery Ahead, But Solidarity and Hope Remain
A long and painful recovery lies ahead for survivors rebuilding their lives and livelihoods. But the response, both local and global, also showed the power of human solidarity.
In Türkiye, youth-led groups like Ahbap mobilized volunteers in the absence of government help. Amateur radio operators provided a communication lifeline. Small business owners like Şaban Gökte, who lost his life’s work in collapsed flour mills, received global donations to start again (Source).
Global authorities must urgently step up reconstruction funding and oversight. Local leaders need compromise and coordinate recovery. Most of all, the survivors of disaster need ongoing solidarity and support to heal emotional and material scars. “We do not want tents, containers,” pleaded Hatay resident Hanim Doydu. “We want our homes to be rebuilt quickly.” (Source)
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