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In Türkiye and Syria, Recovery Will Take a Lifetime

Project HOPE’s response to the February 6, 2023 earthquake reached more than 500,000 people across Türkiye and Syria. But a long road to recovery remains.

The sun had not come up when Basak and her children began to feel the shaking.

It was a cold pre-dawn morning in early February 2023, and her kids were still in bed. Without warning, the 38-year-old mother of four was jolted awake by a deep rumbling around her. The floor beneath her began to move. Cracks spread down the walls around her. Pieces of her home began to crumble.

In the next 75 seconds, Basak’s life would change forever.

The series of earthquakes that struck Türkiye and Syria in February 2023 were the most devastating to hit the region in modern history. By the time the dust settled, nearly 60,000 people had been killed, 130,000 were injured, and more than 1.5 million — including Basak and her four children — were displaced from their homes.

The earthquake threw their lives into the unknown in an instant. Basak moved her family into a tent while trying to piece together a way to move forward. There were no answers to anything: no way to know how many nights they would sleep beneath a canvas tent, when her kids would return to school, where their next meal would come from, or how they would meet their most basic needs.

But that first night she and her children slept on the street, Basak’s mind was on something else.

“My sister-in-law and her children were under the rubble,” she said. “I can’t tell you how we spent that night in fear.”

mother holding child speaks to medical staff in tent.
Basak, 38, visits a medical tent run by Project HOPE’s partner, Dünya Doktorları Derneği, to receive free medicines. “We are grateful for this tent,” Basak said. “It helps us with trying to cope.” Photo by James Buck for Project HOPE, 2023.

Rushing Urgent Medical Relief to Türkiye

Within hours of the earthquake, Project HOPE activated its Emergency Response Team and mobilized partners to provide essential relief and supplies to the impacted population.

Project HOPE’s partner SAMU, a Spanish-based humanitarian response organization, immediately deployed a K-9 search and rescue team to conduct rescue operations in Türkiye. For days, rescuers searched for survivors in dangerous and freezing conditions, providing hope, compassion, and for some, closure.

In a medical tent run by Project HOPE’s partner, Dünya Doktorları Derneği, Basak received free medicines that her four children needed to address skin issues from living in the tent. The medical tent was a critical resource as hospitals faced overwhelming needs in the wake of the earthquake. But it also provided peace of mind for survivors coping with the trauma they had just experienced.

“I want to send my children to school but I cannot trust the buildings,” Basak said in the days following the earthquake. “If it was a tent, I would. But buildings have no place in our lives right now.”

Project HOPE provided broad support during the emergency phase of our response, including 23 interagency emergency health kits (IEHKs) that provided Türkiye’s health system with 29 tons of badly needed medical supplies. We also distributed 28,000 hygiene kits, 39 infant incubators, 30 oxygen cylinders, seven generators, and $56,000 worth of medicines to Gaziantep’s state hospital. In total, our partners conducted more than 40,000 medical and mental health and psychosocial support consultations.

One of the most essential needs in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake was shelter for health care workers who were left without homes. Project HOPE provided 70 housing containers to provide immediate safe shelter, 60 of which were placed next to hospitals and social care centers to house doctors, nurses, social workers, and their families. The other 10 containers were placed at a women’s and girls’ safe space in Hatay.

A year after the earthquake, more than 170 people are still residing in these containers, which have provided clean, safe housing while they perform their critical work.

eagle-eye shot of parking lot full of cars and housing containers
Housing containers for health care workers outside a hospital in Kahramanmaraş, Türkiye. Project HOPE provided 70 housing containers to provide clean, safe shelter for health care workers, women, and girls. Photo by Project HOPE staff, 2023.

Supporting Long-Term Recovery

The damage from the earthquake stretched far and wide across Türkiye and Syria’s health systems: it impacted clean water, infrastructure, and the medical supply chain, but also livelihoods, housing, education, and mental health. Even as cleanup continues one year on, the impacts will last a generation.

In addition to meeting urgent needs, Project HOPE quickly began to pivot to solutions that would support Türkiye and Syria’s long-term recovery. This included installing 50 Solar Water Chlorination Systems (SWCS) to the Adıyaman Provincial Health Directorate to ensure more than 37,000 people living in formal and informal settlements could access clean water. We partnered with the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) and Young Lives Foundation (Genç Hayat Foundation) to provide widespread mental health and psychosocial support services to thousands of people who lost their homes, suffered injuries, and experienced PTSD, including hundreds of young children.

In northwest Syria, Project HOPE supported two partners — Sened Dernegi (Sened) and Syrian Relief and Development (SRD) — to provide mobile medical units, primary health care, and mental health services to internally displaced people and host communities. This support made medical care more accessible for people impacted by the earthquake, but also those affected by conflict that has persisted inside Syria for more than a decade.

young boy being examined by a doctor
Khaled, 4, receives treatment for a shrapnel wound at a primary health care center Project HOPE supported through our partner, Syrian Relief and Development. The long-term impacts of our earthquake response in Syria will help strengthen the broader health system to meet a wide range of needs. Photo by SRD for Project HOPE, 2023.

Project HOPE supported two MMUs in Syria that treated more than 8,000 people and delivered enough medicines, medical supplies, and equipment to support primary health care services for 10,000 people over four months. SRD also supported two primary health care centers that were able to expand their services to include medical health consultations, reproductive health, antenatal care, postnatal care and referrals to advanced levels of care. Together, the two clinics provided support to nearly 25,000 people.

In total, Project HOPE and partners reached more than 500,000 people across southern Türkiye and northwest Syria in the first 12 months of their recovery.

As Basak and her four children begin their second year of rebuilding, she knows more help will be needed — not only for her family, but for the countless others she has watched struggle to recover from the most devastating event any of them have known.

“Children need the biggest support,” she said. “We adults can cope and can support each other. But children need help.”

A mother and her two sons getting medical attention after the Turkiye earthquake
Basak and two of her children in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. She and her four kids are among the 500,000 people Project HOPE and partners reached during our earthquake response. Photo by James Buck for Project HOPE, 2023.

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