Situation still difficult in the Turkish earthquake zones


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Status: 05/13/2023 2:56 p.m

The severe earthquake in Turkey and Syria was three months ago. Every small aftershock still triggers enormous tension, says “Doctors Without Borders” emergency aid coordinator Bachmann. In all, more than 57,000 people died and more than two million people were left homeless in Turkey alone. How are these people?

Marcus Bachmann: The most basic human needs are now largely met. But you have to keep in mind that over two million people are living in tents and the first people are now living in containers. You have to come to terms with this new normal and try to live with it and also create a new normal for yourself. People who have experienced trauma through the death of loved ones, often by losing multiple loved ones at the same time. Relatives who are injured or seriously injured, but who have also lost their livelihoods.

Many factories, many small businesses have been destroyed. That means many jobs have now been lost. Children are just beginning to go to school. This means that the daily structures have also been lost for schoolchildren for months because the schools have either been destroyed or are no longer safe to be able to use them.

And in this situation, people are still dealing with the trauma they have suffered. And then there is the fact that they have to adjust to this new normal, which of course is an additional major challenge for people due to the insecurities, uncertainties and sometimes also the perceived powerlessness.

To person

Marcus Bachmann is the emergency aid coordinator for Doctors Without Borders and is currently working in Turkey. He is an expert in quality and process management with many years of professional experience in the pharmaceutical industry.

First container cities are set up Where and how are you currently working?

Bachmann: I am now in Malatya myself. This is one of the three hardest hit regions. Teams from our partner organizations, which we support as Doctors Without Borders here in Turkey, also work in Adiyaman, in Kahramanmaras and also in Hatay. These are precisely the areas most severely affected by the quake.

Many people now live in tents. They have twelve square meters and families of five live there on average. So that’s twelve square meters where life takes place. The first container cities are just emerging with populations of ten, twelve or fifteen thousand inhabitants – that’s roughly the size of a small town.

These container cities are a huge improvement for people. They move from a tent to a container, which has four square meters more, i.e. 16 square meters. There is a small wet room, there are cooking facilities. But it also means that families of five have to share 16 square meters. For a limited time – so many months – probably also for many families – many years. These containers are tightly packed. It’s a sea of ​​containers that are very close together, with relatively little space. The people there have hardly any retreats.

places to breathe

That is why we are currently building so-called Nefes centers, the Turkish word for taking a breath, to have a place of retreat. In these centers, psychological support is primarily offered, individually but also in group sessions. There are places for the children where they can play safely and with guidance, in different age groups and where they are cared for according to their age.

Appropriately furnished rooms for heavily pregnant women or women who have just given birth to a baby and need peace and quiet to be able to breastfeed their children in peace are also very important. We offer medical advice there, for example through midwives.

Marcus Bachmann and Médecins Sans Frontières staff between the containers that are being set up.

There are also rooms where everyday things can happen, charging smartphones and tablets, there are rooms with free internet access so that people can get in touch with their loved ones inside and outside the country. There are washing facilities, especially for girls and women, which are safe for them to use, and of course there are whole sets of washing machines so that people can keep their laundry reasonably clean.

The concept of these places of retreat should allow people to come together and exchange ideas in the situation. That this feeling of isolation – ‘What I’m going through right now, what’s happening to me, only affects me’ – can also be overcome and also a knowledge and an experience arises: ‘I’m not alone in this’.

Aftershocks still cause trauma to people What do people tell you – how are they?

Bachmann: You have to keep in mind that, of course, dramatic events happened. There are still many aftershocks. Over 33,000 since February 6th and 50 alone with a magnitude over 5.0 on the Richter scale. That does something to people. It triggers trauma every time. I also see this in my colleagues from the local aid organizations, many of whom experienced the earthquakes themselves.

Every stronger aftershock is also a moment of enormous tension, enormous stress. The uncertainty of how to proceed, the uncertainty of getting a solid roof over our heads again. ‘How can I afford this? How can the family afford that? Are there jobs again? Will there be work for me again and thus an income for the people affected?’ This feeling of powerlessness, of powerlessness, naturally also generates very strong emotions such as anger and sadness. And sometimes it also triggers aggression.

A very important part of the work of our psychologists in the partner organizations is to convey to people that their reactions are normal, that their reactions are actually normal given the circumstances. And they give them ways to deal with those emotions. Coping strategies on how to deal with it better and, of course, not having to direct your emotions to those closest to you.

After the earthquake, the Darmstadt doctor Celik flew to Turkey and helped in a field hospital.

Three important pillars of helping people What do these people need most urgently now?

Bachmann: Doctors Without Borders supports local partner organizations in three pillars. Firstly, there is psychological support and also psychosocial support for people of all ages. It starts with children and goes all the way to the elderly. We approach people with mobile teams and also provide them with psychological support in remote mountain villages.

The second important pillar is still providing people with essential relief supplies. Not all people have been reached equally, nor have all people been reached yet. I was in a mountain village last week, where people said thank you and said: ‘For the first time since the earthquakes happened, someone comes to our village and gives us hygiene materials, materials for storing drinking water and also some things cookware’.

And the third, very important pillar: With the rising temperatures, with the very hot summer temperatures that will now prevail here in the earthquake area, the supply of clean and safe drinking water, the supply of hygiene materials, sanitary facilities, shower facilities is important in order to among other things, to prevent the possible emergence of infectious diseases and, in the worst case, epidemics.

The interview was conducted by Anja Martini, science editor of tagesschau. It was abridged and edited for the written version.

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