How UK donations are making a difference in Turkey six months on from devastating earthquakes

Zeynep (left), whose home was destroyed in the earthquake, is one of many receiving life-changing support thanks to UK donations. Credit: Özge Sebzeci/DEC

Saleh Saeed, chief executive of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), visited the epicentre of the devastating earthquakes that hit Turkey and Syria in February, which claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people.

Here he details how UK donations to the DEC Turkey-Syria Earthquake Appeal are continuing to provide medical aid, food, blankets and urgent aid to survivors.

  • Words by Saleh Saeed

Even six months on, wherever you go in Gaziantep and Kahramanmaras, southern Turkey, you can still see the effects of the devastating earthquakes that struck here and northern Syria in February.

This area was at the epicentre, and there isn’t a village or community here that didn’t lose someone in the disaster that claimed the lives of at least 58,000 people across the two countries. The first quake struck in the early hours of the morning as people slept, destroying or badly damaging over 200,000 buildings.

Images of the disaster were beamed around the world, and the UK public responded with incredible generosity donating an amazing £150 million to the appeal launched by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), the organisation I'm proud to lead.

Saleh Saeed (R) meets Zeynep and Mehmet's families who are receiving help from the DEC. Credit: Özge Sebzeci/DEC

Six months on, I came to southern Turkey to see how those donations are being used by the DEC’s member charities - 15 of the leading UK aid agencies who come together under the DEC umbrella when major disasters strike - and their local partners to help people recover.

It’s always a humbling experience to visit these responses and meet people who have lost so much and yet find the strength and resilience to keep going and rebuild their lives, and also the people helping others who have often been affected by the disaster themselves.

This isn’t the first earthquake response I’ve seen - I visited Nepal after the powerful 2015 earthquake there - but the devastation here in built up areas felt so much bigger. It’s clear that for so many people here, the emotion of what happened six months ago is still so raw. People want to move on, but with the devastation still so evident wherever you look, how can you?

Saleh Saeed delivers aid to the home of the village head, Mehmet, his wife Fatma, and two of their children Mehmet Ali* and Leyla*. Credit: Özge Sebzeci/DEC

Many people in these areas are still living in tents or portacabins. When I visited they were dealing with almost unbearable extreme heat, but since the earthquake they have also experienced freezing conditions and then heavy rain and flooding. Despite the harsh conditions, it’s clear that donations are having a real impact on people’s lives.

Help is taking many different forms in this response. I saw a very organised distribution of hygiene kits at a camp for people who lost their homes in the earthquake being run by Oxfam volunteers who themselves lived in the camp. These kits provide everything recipients need to keep themselves clean - from soap to washing up liquid. Oxfam is also using DEC funds to provide latrines and showers in the camps.

As well as losing their homes, many people suffered injuries as buildings collapsed and are still recovering. Another DEC charity, International Rescue Committee, is working with a local medical organisation to provide mobile clinics that provide check-ups and physiotherapy. I met Musa, who was keen to thank everyone for their support which had helped him recover the use of his hand and hugely improved his quality of life.

The impact on children has also been devastating. Many lost family and friends in the earthquakes, their lives completely upended - and for some not for the first time. There are many Syrian refugees living in this area after fleeing the civil war there. It was brilliant to see some of the psychosocial support being delivered by Save the Children at a school, with both Turkish and Syrian children able to have fun, let go of the many difficult experiences they’ve been through and develop ways to cope.

Musa, who lost his daughter in the earthquake, is receiving physiotherapy for injuries sustained in his hands. Credit: Özge Sebzeci/DEC

However the largest share of the money spent so far has been on direct payments in cash or vouchers to people affected by the earthquakes. This is a very efficient and dignified way of delivering and receiving aid, reducing costs and also allowing people to choose to buy what they need when they choose.

I visited a family living in a tent on top of the rubble of their old home in a village of 800 people where 70 had lost their lives in the disaster. Mehmet and Zeynep have received vouchers to help buy food and other essentials through the British Red Cross using funds from the DEC’s appeal, providing them with a lifeline until their house is rebuilt and they can start farming again.

Zeynep, who was trapped under rubble with her children and husband when their house collapsed, pictured where their home once stood. Credit: Özge Sebzeci/DEC

“I don’t want my children to be hungry. If they are hungry I feel miserable,” said Zeynep. “I’m very thankful for this support."

Recovering from such an enormous, devastating disaster will be a long road, and people still face huge challenges in Turkey and across the border in Syria, but donations from people here in the UK are making a real difference to people there.

If you supported our appeal, thank you. You can still give at to help people continue to rebuild their lives and recover from this hugely destructive disaster.

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