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[Turkey]Turkish villagers voice the ir views on life since the quakes

It’s been six months since the biggest earthquakes in Turkiye’s history hit the southeast of the country, claiming the lives of more than 50,000 people, and injuring 107,000 more. Some 9.1 million people were directly affected by the quakes, their homes and lives devastated by the disasters. How have the lives of people changed, or not, in the past half a year? Peace Winds staffs listened to the villagers in the most affected Hatay province.

Hashim Bayraktar, the leader of Tanisma with the soon-to-be demolished mosque in the background
Villagers of Bozhuyuk help PW staff with the delivery of cooler boxes

●“Nothing good has happened in the past six months.”

“The thing that changed the most this past six months is our living environment and lifestyle, which were upended overnight,” said Shezah Ahmed, a Syrian refugee living in the village of Madenboyu, as she feeds the youngest of her three children, one-year-old Silah. “Since then, nothing good has happened,” she adds, waving her free hand at the surrounding jumble of tents and patchwork of cloth canopies where her family of five and seven other relatives have lived since the Feb. 6 disasters, during which she lost her pregnant sister.
Of the many inconveniences she and her family faces living in a tent, a shortage of clean water is the most serious, Shezah says. Because access to drinking water is limited, Silah, is constantly in and out of hospital for various illnesses. Mosquitoes and other insects and snakes are another nuisance that goes hand-in-hand with tent living, adding to the discomforts of extreme heat and the mentally taxing sound of raindrops on canvas on the rare occasions when it rains.
Conditions are not much better in the government-issued containers. Hasan Keser, a resident of another Hatay village, Tanisma, recently moved his family of four from a tent to a container next to their quake-wrecked home, which is set to be demolished.
Temporary dwellings in Tanisma are often located close to the occupants’ devastated homes, and while this is testimony to the deep ties to the land and the livelihoods it has long supported, it also presents a constant reminder of the February terror.
So, too, the aftershocks. According to a WHO report, there have been more than 30,000 aftershocks as of May and the latest of them, on July 25, measured magnitude 5.5 on the Richter scale.

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Keser is concerned about people’s mental health

●Concerns about people’s mental health

“Living in temporary dwellings takes its toll,” said Keser, “I think the biggest change this past six months has been people’s mental health, especially in this heat.”
Like many of the village’s earthquake-induced unemployed, Keser spends his days from dawn until dusk wandering the streets seeking shade and company. Talking with friends helps, he says, but can lead to undesirable outcomes, such as physical confrontations – almost unheard of before the disasters.
Psychological damage is also cited as the biggest post-quake change by Resmiye Aslan, as she sits in a shady driveway in central Tanisma nimbly threading tobacco leaves onto lengths of string for drying. She continues to be haunted by the memory of that initial magnitude 7.8 temblor that struck in the early hours of Feb. 6.
Resmiye’s niece, Selcan, moved back to Madenboyu from Istanbul with her family because she was concerned about her parents’ mental wellbeing. The quakes destabilized the normally tranquil couple. “All it takes is the smallest thing, like a cold, and my mother starts talking about running away, like we’ve been hit by some kind of plague,” she says.
Resmiye says such thinking may seem a little extreme, but in her mind rather than being a healer, time has only made things worse. “You would think in six months that the situation would improve, but we still have no idea where we will be living in a year’s time, and that kind of anxiety eats away at you. It’s affecting us all.”

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Resmiye on left and Selcan preparing tabacco leaves for drying

In order to help decrease the hardships of the quake victims, Peace Winds has provided various humanitarian aid in the past six months. The following is an interview with one of our staff Shota Aiba who has been on the ground since April.

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Shota Aiba (center)

●The scene was so different from what I remembered

− Where were you on February 6th when the earthquakes hit Turkiye?

Aiba: I was in the Republic of Costa Rica, where I was supposed to start my graduate studies. But the beginning of my course, Peace Studies, was postponed until this fall, so I had an unexpected gap. Then I learned that southern Turkiye, where I once traveled and love, was close to the epicenter and badly damaged, so I applied to Peace Winds wishing to be of some help.

− You were dispatched immediately because you had previous experiences with Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (in Sri Lanka and Myanmar) and with other NGOs. When did you arrive in Turkiye?

Aiba: On April 5th, two months after the quakes. When I landed at Adana Airport, the damage nearby was not so bad, but the closer we got to the Peace Winds office in Iskenderun, which is a two-hour drive away, the more severe the damage became. There were many houses and other buildings that had collapsed, and I began to see trucks carrying aid packages, or for construction work.

− Was it different from the Turkiye you knew?

Aiba: I was a college student when I traveled through southern Turkiye in 2011. I traveled through Hatay Province, where is Iskenderum is located, and on to Allepo in Syria, because the conflict in Syria was not so severe at that time. Antakya, the capital of Hatay, was a beautiful city with many historical buildings, including churches from the Roman Empire era. What I saw this time was so different because most of the buildings had been destroyed by the quakes. I was shocked to find nothing that could be connected to my memories.

− What have you been doing since your arrival in Turkiye this time?

Aiba: Before my arrival, Peace Winds had been helping the search and rescue operations, provided medical support at an ad-hoc clinic, and provided tents and emergency relief packages. After my arrival, we first investigated the needs of the people in the most disaster-hit areas, in consultation with the local leaders, and decided to provide packages of food and other daily necessities in the villages of Tanisma and Madenboyu.

Then, we procured, stored and sorted out the goods and delivered more than 12,000 packages to residents in those villages. We have added two more villages to provide such packages and continue to deliver in accordance to what the residents need the most.

− Have the needs of people changed over the past six months?

Aiba: Food and hygiene kits were the priority immediately after the quakes. We delivered food items including rice, flour, salt, sugar, oil, lentils, jam, olives, and so on. With time, there has been less need for such food stuffs because people have more and more access to food. Now the most urgent need is for items that help people survive the heat of the summer. The air inside the tents is so hot, especially during the daytime. So it is important to deliver fans and cooler boxes, which we are now preparing to do.

− Do you see any changes in the people’s reaction to this disasters?

Aiba: We see signs of recovery and reconstruction in bigger cities. Stores are reopening now and then in Iskenderun, and people are more upbeat about post-quake work and life. Recently I was surprised to see the beauty of the entire park in central Iskenderun after all the tents there were removed.

On the other hand, people in remote villages such as Tanisma and Madenboyu there is less progress. Many people say nothing has changed. One of the reasons why recovery is slow in such villages is because villagers prefer to live in temporary dwellings next to their homes instead of establishing a big compound of tents where it is easier to provide water and electricity en masse.

− Now you are leaving Turkiye to re-start your graduate studies. How do you feel about leaving?

Aiba: Part of me does not want to leave because I want to see through the projects we have started to the end. I had decided to study at the United Nations University for Peace because I realized the need to study more after I worked for another NGO. I want to be able to work more effectively with deeper knowledge about ethnic conflicts and the way to solve them. I hope to be back one day with a better, stronger version of me.

*These projects in Turkiye have been made possible with the funding and support by Japan Platform and generous donations from our supporters.

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