On 6 February, families went to sleep across Turkey and Syria, unaware that they would be waking up to destruction and that they wouldn’t get a chance to hold their loved ones for one last time.
The devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Gaziantep, Turkey and large parts of northwest Syria has so far claimed the lives of over 40,000 people, with that number expected to grow as people are pulled out from under the rubble.
Search and rescue teams have been scrambling, for over a week, through the mountains of rubble in order to find any signs of survival.
AMA has been on the ground since the earthquake struck, in both Turkey and Syria, assessing the needs daily and responding to peoples’ pleas for help.
Many of those seen by AMA’s teams on the ground have lost members of their family and all of their possessions.
Now left homeless, these families have no protection against the cold, no where to use the toilet or shower, and have no access to food. Our teams on the ground have warned against the spread of disease if no action is taken quickly.
“One of the biggest needs right now, apart from tents and food, is dignity kits. People have no access to clean water, which could lead to people dying from cholera or diarrhea,” an AMA spokesperson explained.
Our team on the ground in Syria has since provided dignity kits containing hygiene items to those in need, but there is a desperate need for more donations to help aid organisations reach the growing number of people in need.
In Syria, many families say they feel that people around the world have forgotten them and they have been largely neglected, as they face a shortage of necessary aid and are left to fend for themselves.
“We need to uplift people”
Omar Hamesh, one of AMA’s team members on the ground in Turkey, urged people to act quickly and respond to peoples’ calls for help.
“We need to uplift people, provide them with dignity after they lost everything, and provide them with hope,” he said, describing the harrowing situation, where people were seeking shelter in open parks and in the streets.
The disaster has had an significant impact on peoples’ mental health as well as their physical health, with children in particular struggling to process the loss of their family members and the new reality they have found themselves in.
Psychologists are warning that urgent action needs to be taken as the psychological impact, including nightmares, anxiety and trauma could lead to long term issues.
The earthquake has become the deadliest natural disaster in Turkey’s modern history, with the death toll exceeding that of the 1939 quake.
Despite aid trickling in, there remains a huge need for basic needs.
“We can smell death in the air”
AMA has responded by installing insulated tents in Syria and Turkey, providing families with somewhere to sleep and stay warm, as the air is filled with debris from collapsed buildings and the acrid smell of decay and death.
“We can actually smell the dead in the air,” Jihan Kaisi, AMA’s spokesperson on the ground in Syria explained. “The situation is catastrophic, and the images people are seeing on TV and in the news does not fully relay how badly people are suffering,” she added.
“From Aleppo to Latakia, every district has heartbreaking stories and collapsed buildings. We are seeing mass graves everywhere. Many of those affected in Syria have already gone through displacement due to the war in Syria,” she says.
Around many parts of Syria, body bags are lining the streets and people have resorted to burning tyres and anything they can find to stay warm.
“Bayan, a 10-year old Syrian child, was celebrating the birthday party of her twin siblings the night of the earthquake. She was stuck under the rubble for 15 hours, and lost her siblings and parents. This is just one of many stories,” Kaisi says.
The streets are filled with remnants of possessions which were once held dearly by residents of the area, from notebooks littered with drawings and notes of future ambitions, to children’s toys.
AMA has responded by distributing toys, medicine, blankets and other necessary items, however, teams on the ground have continued to urge for donations as the need is growing day by day.
“I still can’t process what I’m seeing in front of me,” says Kaisi. “People were already suffering from awful conditions in Syria due to the war, and now the earthquake has only added to the crisis.”