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Aftershocks, Sanitation, and Mental Health Issues Imperil Health of Earthquake Survivors in Türkiye and Syria

Project HOPE states that there is an immense need to support the millions of survivors living in shelters, camps, and rural settlements in Türkiye and Syria.

Washington, DC (1 March 2023) – Just weeks after the back-to-back 7.8- and 7.5-magnitude earthquakes of February 6, major aftershocks continue to imperil the well-being of millions of now-homeless survivors in Türkiye and Syria, says the global health and humanitarian aid organization, Project HOPE, and there is an immense need to support the millions of survivors living in shelters, camps, and rural settlements.  

 “While thousands of survivors are now living in formal, government-run camps in urban centers of the affected areas, many more are living in informal camps that are closer to their homes and neighborhoods. Based on Project HOPE’s assessments, these locations do not have the same level of staff support or services as the formal camps, including health access,” said Arlan Fuller, Project HOPE’s Director of Emergency Response and Preparedness. “Though rural areas generally sustained less damage and have functioning family health centers, thousands of urban residents have moved out of the cities to seek shelter with family living outside of the cities, resulting in a rural population surge that has overwhelmed local health systems. Informal camps – many of which are made up of minority groups of Syrian refugees, Romani, and Kurdish families – are showing the greatest need, which includes housing, latrines, showers, and mental health and psychosocial support.”  

Project HOPE deployed an emergency response team to Gaziantep, Türkiye in the immediate aftermath of the historic earthquakes who provided search-and-rescue operations, while conducting rapid assessments of the shelter and health needs for survivors. Project HOPE is focused on supporting survivors with safe and warm shelter; water, sanitation, and hygiene needs; critical supplies like health kits and generators; and providing psychosocial and mental health support.   

The massive loss of life has had a profound impact on the community’s mental health and the initial shock is starting to wear off for so many who have been living in survival mode since the earthquakes. The survivors – as well as first responders and health workers – need significant psychosocial and mental health support.  

“The repeated aftershocks create a complex trauma for earthquake survivors, forcing people to relive an experience that literally brought the walls around them crumbling down, and killed their family members, friends, and neighbors. Children have endured particularly profound impacts from this disaster. We’re seeing children who have gone mute, who are wetting the bed, or just enduring separation anxiety, while struggling to maintain normal sleeping and eating patterns,” said Rawan Hamedeh, Project HOPE’s Program Officer who oversees the organization’s mental health and resiliency trainings that are active in 40 countries around the globe. “We must also be mindful of how this humanitarian disaster is affecting health workers who are on the frontlines of support, many of whom have been living in cars due to the lack of structurally-sound housing.” 

In addition to mental health stressors, Project HOPE is concerned with shelter and sanitation, as many are living in exposed, makeshift shelters in freezing temperatures. In some tent camps, as many as 1,000 people share a single latrine. The teams report lice, scabies, and diarrhea as the top medical conditions, while unsanitary and cramped conditions continue to increase the risk of the spread of contagious diseases.  

Project HOPE is collaborating with the local and international authorities to coordinate the delivery of humanitarian aid into both Türkiye and Syria. Procured services and supplies in Türkiye include generators, sleeping bags and thermal blankets, and hygiene kits. In Syria, Project HOPE is working with a local partner to deliver an interagency emergency health kit, which will support the primary health needs of 10,000 people over the course of three months. Additionally, Project HOPE is working with government officials to determine key mental health and psychosocial support interventions, which will aim to increase the resilience and physical and psychosocial health of the affected population with a special emphasis on women and female-headed households in the affected communities. 

To schedule an interview, please contact media@projecthope.org.
Photos and b-roll of this disaster response, including of a generator being delivered and installed in Türkiye, are available here for media use.  

About Project HOPE  

Founded in 1958, Project HOPE is a leading global health and humanitarian organization operating in more than 25 countries around the world. We work side-by-side with local health systems to save lives and improve health. Our mission is at the epicenter of today’s greatest health challenges, including infectious and chronic diseases, disasters and health crises, maternal, neonatal and child health and the policies that impact how health care is delivered. For more information on Project HOPE and its work around the world, visit projecthope.org and follow us on Twitter @ProjectHOPEorg.  

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