by Ayşegül Kandaş
A year has passed since the devastating February 6, 2023 earthquakes, affecting the South eastern region of Türkiye.
Right after the earthquakes, our government began efforts to find survivors and those who died, clear the rubble, and provide aid to the affected communities, with extensive intra-governmental, international and civil society collaboration.
Today, a year on, we still remember and as will we in the future, what happened and the lives and dreams lost.
Looking back to the drone footage from the quake zone right after the disaster, we remember the destruction.
Our government is working day and night and in the process of mitigating the losses in the area and providing affected residents with housing through various governmental campaigns.
Our President HE Recep Tayyip Erdoğan rightfully defined the earthquakes as the “disaster of the century”.
As 2023 was also the year in which we celebrated the centenary of the founding of our Republic, we had hoped our celebration would take place without going through such devastation.
What happened was clearly out of reach of any country’s ability to mitigate on its own. Thankfully, we had our friends in the international community to rely on, including our brothers and sisters from South Africa.
Looking back to where we were almost a year ago, right after the earthquakes, the psychology of a whole nation going through such devastation, we now find ourselves relieved that we had found so much aid from so many friendly countries during those darkest hours.
Just from South Africa, we were able to send to our country 180 tons of in-kind assistance, including tents, portable hygiene units, heaters, blankets, portable housing units, etc, especially two gigantic tents which are currently being used as schools for the children in Hatay, as well as monetary donations worth thousands of US dollars.
The international community was in solidarity with us. I wish to highlight the United Nations “Flash Appeal Türkiye” (UNFPA) , which was published by the UN on February 16, which served as a reference initiative for the co-ordination of all international aid for Türkiye that would be carried out by the UN together with all parties. It was in support of the government-led relief effort.
Essential services including schools, hospitals and other medical, maternity and educational facilities had been damaged or destroyed by the earthquakes, with children and women particularly impacted. Only one in seven family health centres remained functional (fully or partially), according to preliminary assessments by health authorities.
According to the first estimates, over 200 000 pregnant women who needed access to maternal health services were living in affected areas, and would have given birth under the most difficult circumstances, according to UNFPA.
I must add that Türkiye hosts the largest refugee population in the world. The 11 provinces impacted by the earthquakes accommodate more than 1.74 million refugees (Syrians under Temporary Protection and International Protection Applicants and Status holders).
In Kilis province, one out of every two people is a refugee. In Gaziantep, Şanlıurfa and Hatay, one out of every four or five people are refugees.
Considering all this, the UNFPA contributed significantly to the government-led humanitarian efforts on a comprehensive scale.
Teams were assigned to carry out damage detection studies immediately after the earthquake. In order to prevent a similar tragedy from happening again, our state checks buildings in risk zones with technical teams and employs safety measures.
We have mobilised all the means of our state and nation for the reconstruction of the earthquake zone and to provide for the needs of quake victims. Technical teams and state officials constantly follow the process by visiting the region at various times.
The earthquakes caused heavy destruction in 11 cities, 124 districts, and nearly 7 000 villages and neighbourhoods and 14 million citizens were directly affected by the disaster.
Thirty-five thousand personnel, including 11 500 foreign team members, took part during the search and rescue efforts.
The world’s largest search, rescue and recovery operation was carried out, with the fastest examples of debris removal and reconstruction work.
The number of tents distributed in Hatay reached 286 000, while the number of containers reached 57 000. Thirty-eight thousand people were hosted in dormitories and public facilities.
In total, 135 589 residences, 15 589 workplaces, and nearly 150 000 beneficiaries were identified in Hatay. The number of beneficiaries in the earthquake region was estimated to be 390 000.
Additionally, debris of 95% of approximately 83 000 buildings that were destroyed or severely damaged due to the earthquakes has been successfully removed.
Housing and workplace projects are still ongoing. As of February 3, a total of 7 275 houses have been provided to those affected.
The Turkish government’s work will continue to revive and renovate earthquake-damaged cities. Delivery of 75 000 houses throughout the earthquake zone will be completed within the upcoming two months.
The aim is to provide 15 000 to 20 000 flats and houses to their beneficiaries each month in the following period. Accordingly, 200 000 residences will be delivered by the end of the year.
We have started to heal our wounds and our people are returning to their daily lives. The most important thing is that our citizens trust the government and altogether we are keeping morale high, looking to a hopeful future.
As one may expect, there were attempts at disinformation during our darkest hours, but we were happy to see that our citizens diligently chose not to listen to this, and worked together with the state to overcome the difficulties as a nation.
Real friends are the ones who are with us in difficult days.
With the generous help of South Africans, the Turkish Embassy in Pretoria was able to send generous aid to our country immediately after the earthquake.
This was very important and Türkiye shall never forget it.
* Ayşegül Kandaş Turkish Ambassador.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.