Earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria still need our help

(Global Christian Relief) — The victims of this disaster in Turkey and Syria must not be forgotten.

Kader Mersin combs her daughter Atra Basak’s hair next to tents where they temporarily live after February’s powerful earthquake in Antakya, southeastern Turkey, May 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Metin Yoksu)

(Global Christian Relief) — In the early morning hours of Feb. 6, 2023, Yousef, a Turkish Christian, was awakened by rumbling.

“I looked up in the morning and suddenly, ‘Boom!’ I got up and sat on the bed and then again, ‘Boom!’ he said. “That’s when my heart started pounding.”

Yousef, who lives about 20 miles from the ancient city of Antioch, managed to wake his family and get them out of their crumbling apartment. But upstairs, Yousef’s brother Abdul and his family were trapped by a large cabinet blocking the exit. After Abdul encouraged his family, saying, “God is with us. Let’s try to lift it again,” the cabinet moved, and the family escaped.

But not everyone was so fortunate. In Turkey alone, the magnitude 7.8 and 7.7 earthquakes killed more than 50,000 people and injured more than 100,000 others. At least 15 million people in all and 4 million buildings were affected. In Syria, nearly 8,500 were killed, including 2,000 children. More than 5 million people were left homeless, and more than half of Syria’s entire population was impacted.

While those of us living in the West were briefly concerned with this tragedy, our attention has waned over the six months since. A war in Ukraine, protests across Iran, saber-rattling from North Korea, deadly heat waves across the continental United States and numerous other stories have captured our collective gaze. Yet the needs of those affected by the earthquakes remain great. America must reengage. 

In Turkey, an estimated 4 million children still require humanitarian assistance. More than 1.5 million people are still living in tents or temporary shelters, some without access to potable water. Many families are trying to survive in cramped, overcrowded conditions with as many as 20 living in a single tent, and countless children are struggling to cope with the mental anguish caused by the quake.

Members of a family keep warm next to a fire as they follow a rescue team searching for their relatives among destroyed buildings in Antakya, southern Turkey, Feb. 15, 2023. One month after a powerful quake devastated parts of Turkey and Syria, hundreds of thousands of people continue to have “extensive humanitarian needs,” including shelter and sanitation, a United Nations official said March 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, File)

Members of a family keep warm next to a fire as they follow a rescue team searching for their relatives among destroyed buildings in Antakya, southern Turkey, Feb. 15, 2023. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, File)

The recovery and rebuilding process has been slow, hampered by a myriad of obstacles. Associates of recently reelected Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are accused of spending funds designated for natural disasters on highway projects instead. Erdogan has already been accused of responding slowly when the earthquakes initially hit.

Conditions are worse in Syria, a country already crippled by a civil war and desperate humanitarian crises. Those who lived in camps before the earthquake remain displaced. Relief efforts have been hampered in part by sporadic bombing from the war. Only 10% to 20% of people’s basic needs are currently being met.

Just weeks ago, in addition, the United Nations Security Council failed to renew an important border crossing between Turkey and Syria, which could severely hamper aid flowing into areas of Syria controlled by rebels.

As religious minorities, Christians living in these areas are especially vulnerable. In Turkey, followers of Jesus already face discrimination from strong — and increasing — religious nationalism and a religiously oppressive government. Syria, one of the most difficult places in the world to be a Christian, scored an abysmal 1/100 on Freedom House’s Freedom in the World Index, ranking below both Afghanistan and North Korea. In areas of Syria where Islamic extremist groups are active or in control, those who dare to express their Christian faith are at risk.

However, a spark of hope remains. Global humanitarian organizations have remained engaged on the ground in both countries, providing critical support to those on the margins. Global Christian Relief has disbursed millions of dollars of relief aid impact to provide food, clean water, blankets and emergency medical assistance to earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria. We’ve also had the opportunity to supply numerous families in Turkey with sturdier container homes while they await permanent housing.

Much more must be done. When a story line falls out of a news cycle, the impact on the people affected does not automatically stop. In Turkey alone, reconstruction may take five years or more. Some towns will need to be fully cleared and rebuilt from the ground up. In Syria, the situation is dire.

David Curry. Courtesy photo

David Curry. Courtesy photo

We need to call on governmental entities like the U.N. to make sure that critical humanitarian aid reaches those who need it most. The victims of this disaster in Turkey and Syria must not be forgotten. It’s our job to make sure they are remembered.

(David Curry is president and CEO of Global Christian Relief. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

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