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A Syrian family huddle around a fire to keep warm
15 February 2023

"We will not recover from this easily"

A first hand account of the Turkey-Syria earthquake

"Buildings fell down, people screaming..."

Safa stands before a pile of rubble in Northwest Syria. Behind her, a building that once housed up to 24 families now lies in ruins. As a Monitoring and Evaluation Officer for World Vision, Safa is part of the relief effort. But she and her family also experienced the devastation first-hand.

Safa, Syria, looks out at the rubble following the earthquake
Safa, Syria, looks out at the rubble in her community

Safa recalls the first earthquake:

“During that night, we were sleeping and I felt the ground shaking. Frightened, I kept saying it will calm down. And it will go away. But it was increasing [and the] sound from the ground was frightening. Me and my husband covered my children to protect them saying it will stop but it wouldn’t. The sound of the falling building was horrific. I thought it was shelling. For a second we were helpless. We couldn’t make a decision what to do. My husband said, ‘What are we doing here? Let’s go down.’ We gathered our children and went out and that’s when the disaster came about. The buildings fell down, people screaming, and at their children, at their mother, for someone to help, to remove the rubble and alive people underneath.”

The sound of the falling building was horrific. I thought it was shelling - Safa

"We will not recover from this easily,” Safa continues. “People need help. Urgent help. There are no shelters. Those who have full or partial damage are [staying with] their relatives or a displacement camp or outside. There are families there under the trees. They are lighting a fire, afraid to go into the house as it’s cracked... they don’t have anywhere else to go.”  

Syrian man standing on the rubble of a building
Syrian man surveys the destruction of the earthquake

Unforgettable scenes

News channels have been full of images and stories from Syria and Turkey (officially the Republic of Türkiye), where over 30,000 people have been confirmed dead and so many more are now homeless.

The world watched the scenes of devastation in the wake of two powerful earthquakes in the early hours of Monday 6 February. Hope faded fast for so many trapped beneath the rubble, while survivors themselves clawed at the ruins of tower blocks, desperately trying to rescue family, friends, neighbours.

READ MORE: What's happening in Turkey and Syria?

Syrian children keep warm in the shadows of ruined buildings
Syrian children keep warm in the shadows of ruined buildings

Greater need

There have been some miraculous stories of people being pulled from the rubble more than a week in, surviving despite the odds. But there is much for the people of these two nations to process in the wake of a disaster that has created need greater than any other natural disaster World Vision has responded to in over a decade.

“Cocktail of catastrophe”

Johan Mooij, World Vision’s Syria Response Director, shares his thoughts on the disaster:

“The Türkiye-Syria earthquake is serving up a cocktail of catastrophe from wide scale death, destruction and injuries. Combined with the pre-existing levels of need in northwest Syria, following 12 years of conflict, and the harsh winter conditions amidst mass displacement – to say it’s challenging is quite an understatement.

“Beyond the spiralling death toll, this earthquake in northwest Syria is unique because four million people were already completely dependent on humanitarian aid prior to Monday's disaster and access to this area was, and is, extremely constrained due to conflict dynamics.”

Access to Syria

While the world has been able to keep up-to-date with the recovery progress in Turkey, this hasn't been the case in Syria due to limited access. However, thankfully, World Vision had a team in place, already supporting the vast number of refugees and displaced people in the northwest of the country.

Fuel for heating being distributed in Syria following the earthquake
Fuel being distributed for heating, Syria

World Vision’s response

Since day one, World Vision has been working locally in Syria and Turkey. Our team initially provided 17,000 litres of fuel to health facilities and rescue teams in northwest Syria, to enable them to keep running their operations, transporting and treating the wounded. Emergency kits, water, food, shelter, winter kits and medical items have also been supplied.

The response to the Turkey-Syrian earthquakes from our supporters has been amazing. If you’ve been able to give, thank you so much.

The recovery is going to be extensive in terms of time and cost. Many thousands are homeless and have nothing but the clothes on their backs. A monthly gift will help us plan ahead for the coming months of recovery.

Helping vulnerable children

In the aftermath of disasters like the Turkey-Syria earthquakes, children are most vulnerable. In Turkey and Syria, many have become orphaned and homeless in a matter of minutes.

Even those who haven’t lost a parent or sibling will be scarred by what they’ve seen and heard: the ground violently shaking, buildings collapsing around them, sounds of distress. These events will probably stay with them for the rest of their lives.

As a member of the DEC (Disasters Emergency Committee) and with more than seventy years’ experience of responding to emergencies like this, World Vision has the resources to provide not just practical support to those affected by the quake. We will also be there to support the emotional recovery of children with psychosocial support.

A gift today will be used to help children who are vulnerable right now.

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