Earthquake Mission in Türkiye: A massive earthquake struck Türkiye and Syria on February 6, leaving tens of thousands dead and millions homeless. Milwaukee Independent was invited by a team of American doctors and clergy to document conditions in the hardest hit parts of Türkiye a month later, embedded with the Turkish Red Crescent, Türk Kizilay. This special series offers a snapshot of the situation in Adiyaman and Antakya in images, with stories from first responders and survivors of the unfolding natural disaster.

Türk Kizilay, the Turkish Red Crescent, has been at the forefront of relief efforts in Türkiye since the devastating magnitude 7.8 earthquake that hit the country on February 6.

Known for its humanitarian assistance in disaster-stricken areas, the organization has been working tirelessly to provide aid and support to those affected by the recent disaster.

“The Turkish Red Crescent has been working around the clock to provide aid to survivors. In the aftermath of the earthquake, we have deployed teams to the affected areas to provide food, shelter, and medical support to those in need,” said Dr. Kerem Kinik, President of Türk Kizilay.

Milwaukee Independent spoke with Dr. Kinik at Türk Kizilay’s base camp in the Kahramanmaraş National Park, after documenting its operations in the city of Adiyaman.

Türk Kizilay’s efforts have been crucial in providing emergency relief to those affected by the Kahramanmaraş earthquake. The organization set up temporary shelters for those who have lost their homes and provided basic necessities like food, water, and blankets.

As of March 16, just under two million people were evacuated from the disaster areas to 71 different provinces. Türk Kizilay distributed 3.5 million aid materials, including clothing, blankets, kitchen equipment, bedding, dry food, hygiene materials, cleaning materials, food parcels, and health supplies.

A total of 13 social markets were also opened to enable citizens to access food and consumer products more easily and distribute products to earthquake victims free of charge. Approximately 245,000 disaster victims have benefited from the markets opened in the tent cities, meeting their needs free of charge.

“People lost many belongings, so they need everything. And what we need most in order to help is the ability to offer cash assistance. Providing funds is more stabilizing and dignified for these people,” Dr. Kinik told Milwaukee Independent. “Donors from around the world have spent a lot of money to send items to help the earthquake victims. But there are logistical problems to fit the right items with the right needs. And some donated items are not always what survivors are most desperate for.”

Dr. Kinik said Türk Kizilay preferred that anyone wanting to support their relief efforts should consider cash assistance. The method was traceable and it is highly effective.

“Cash assistance is also a boost to the suffering local economy, and allows people to plan the priorities of their necessities for themselves,” said Dr. Kinik. “In Türkiye, we are providing mostly 2.5 million people with cash assistance regularly. It is the largest ever cash-based social safety net program.”

Where markets are functioning, Türk Kizilay has distributed more than 140,000 cash vouchers, helping to empower survivors by restoring their agency, and giving them the freedom and control to meet their needs in the way they prefer.

Multi-purpose cards are used like debit cards at discount shopping centers and “social markets.” From donors to beneficiaries, 100% of the funds are transferred without any overhead. Dr. Kinik said that the program was efficient, and gave survivors a lifeline and the means to recover from the overwhelming natural disaster.

“Our priority is to ensure that the survivors have access to basic necessities like food, water, and shelter. We are working to provide them with a safe and secure environment where they can begin to rebuild their lives,” said Alpaslan Durmuş, President of the Red Crescent Academy and regional coordinator for relief operations.

Along with members of the Disaster Nourishment Platform, Türk Kizilay has coordinated and prepared hot meals for approximately 150 million people, delivering them to victims at disaster sites.

In addition to providing emergency relief, Türk Kizilay has been working to ensure that the survivors have access to medical care. So far, almost 10,000 disaster victims were examined at 8 mobile health units in 6 provinces, with more than 15,000 disaster victims given medical aid.

“We have deployed mobile health clinics to the affected areas to provide medical support to those in need,” said Durmuş. “Our teams are working to treat injuries and provide mental health support to those who have been traumatized by the disaster.”

Working with its psychosocial teams in the provinces most affected by the earthquake, psychological support was provided to approximately 70,000 people. Türk Kizilay’s psychologists have focused on helping women and children overcome their disaster trauma. The teams of psychologists also provide first aid to mental disorders that surfaced after the Kahramanmaraş earthquake.

Türk Kizilay’s work is a reminder of the importance of humanitarian aid in times of crisis, and why it is vital to come together as a community to support those in need. It is also an example of how humanitarian organizations can make a difference in the lives of those affected by a disaster.

For more than 150 years Türk Kizilay, the Turkish Red Crescent, has been a symbol of humanitarianism in Türkiye. Established in the aftermath of the Russo-Turkish War in 1877-1878, it has played a critical role in providing aid and support to those in need.

Türk Kizilay’s history is marked by a series of humanitarian efforts, including providing aid to refugees during the Balkan Wars, supporting wounded soldiers during World War I, and offering medical aid to earthquake survivors in the 20th century.

The organization also played a critical role in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in Türkiye, distributing medical aid and assistance to those affected by the deadly virus.

As Türkiye continues to recover from the February 6 earthquake, Türk Kizilay’s efforts will remain crucial for helping those who have been affected in the days ahead. The organization’s legacy of humanitarianism will continue to be an enduring symbol of hope and resilience in Türkiye and beyond.

“Our work is far from over. We will continue to provide support to the earthquake survivors in the coming weeks and months as they begin to rebuild their lives,” added Dr. Kinik.

A massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck parts of Türkiye and Syria on February 6. The Milwaukee public is encouraged to make donations to Türk Kizilay, the Turkish Red Crescent, in support of their vital crisis relief work.

Lee Matz

Lee Matz