Since the devastating earthquakes hit Turkey (officially renamed Türkiye) and Syria in February, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been working with local partners to respond to the immense need for medical and mental health care for the millions of people left injured or homeless across both countries.
In Syria, MSF teams were some of the first to respond, treating patients within hours after the earthquake struck. In Türkiye, we partnered with local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) who have carried out the work on the ground, and this week, we are closing direct operations as our partners take the lead providing aid to the 5.2 million people still in need of humanitarian assistance. Here’s a recap of the progress we’ve made—and the needs that remain.
The impact of the earthquakes
On February 6, two massive earthquakes with 7.8 and 7.5 Richter magnitude ratings struck southeastern Türkiye and northwestern Syria. The destruction was catastrophic.
- 51,000+ people killed
- 3 million people forced to flee their homes
- 210,000+ buildings collapsed
- 890,000 buildings heavily or moderately damaged
- 9.1 million people directly impacted
“The first days were dark ones,” said Ali, who is a muhtar, or elected community leader, in the Sofular neighborhood of Antakya. “Our people were miserable and hungry, it was cold, no one knew what to do or where their family members and neighbors were.”
Two hundred miles away in Adiyaman, another city severely damaged by the earthquake, the scars are as deep. "Everything collapsed,” said Sevda. “People have also collapsed, financially and emotionally."
“We cannot even stay in a room alone,” added her niece, Birgül. “Multiple people will stay in one room to give support to one another.”
MSF’s earthquake response in Türkiye
Since day one, MSF has supported Turkish civil society and NGOs responding to the needs of the 9.1 million people directly affected. By the end of April, MSF-supported NGOs installed 61 water tanks, 312 toilets, 160 showers, and delivered over 2.5 million cubic meters (over 660,000 gallons) of potable water to communities impacted—and their work continues. Teams also delivered essential supplies, including:
- 96.6 tons of produce
- 390,500 meals
- 53.1 tons of firewood
- 38,154 hygiene kits
- 321 tents
"This is the fifth time in the last 30 years that MSF has worked hand in hand with local groups and staff to assist people affected by earthquakes in Türkiye,” said Ozan Ağbaş, MSF Emergency Support Manager. “Either directly, or by supporting local NGO’s, our teams responded to the earthquakes in 1996, 1999, 2011, and now in 2023. As an independent, neutral and impartial international medical humanitarian organization, we remain ready to support people in Türkiye in the future, should our assistance be required.”
Though the initial phase of our earthquake response in Türkiye is over, there are still longer-term needs to be met, especially when it comes to mental health and psychosocial support, water and sanitation services, and the provision of hygiene and other non-food items.
Responding to the needs of people living in camps and on streets
MSF-supported teams were among the first to respond to the needs of displaced people living in informal camps or on the streets outside their homes. These settings usually lack water and sanitation infrastructure, which is a critical threat to people’s health due to the waterborne diseases, like cholera, that proliferate in its absence.
"Initially, the biggest issue was providing toilets and showers in the camps and getting everything connected, because the supply chain was very challenging early on,” said Wayne Chang, a water and sanitation specialist with the MSF-supported local NGO Yardım Konvoyu. “Putting a proper system in place is the easiest way to preventing waterborne diseases.”
Together with other aid organizations, MSF-supported Turkish NGOs installed a water pump and tanks for the severely damaged Hatay Training and Research Hospital, which had to move its operations to a tented field hospital in its courtyard.
"Due to the unavailability of toilets and water supply within the initial 72 hours following the earthquakes, we had to find alternative ways to address these essential needs,” said Selami, who is a survivor, first response volunteer, and medical technician at the hospital. “Once the donated blue water tanks arrived, the situation improved significantly.”
Psychological support and safe havens
As of May 4, 650,000 households—some 2.6 million people—are still living in tents, while over 157,000 live in 85,500 containers throughout Türkiye. The crowded, cramped environment, hot weather, and lack of infrastructure make life in these facilities difficult.
“The situation is very bad,” said Muna, a woman from Hatay who takes care of a girl named Meryam, whose parents were transferred to Adana for surgery after being rescued from under the rubble. “Now Meryem’s family lives in a tent with no air conditioner, no refrigerator, and no electricity.”
MSF provided technical and financial support to local NGOs to build three psychosocial and living centers in Adıyaman, Malatya and Kahramanmaraş. The centers are called “Nefes,”the Turkish word for breathe. Indeed, these centers offer displaced people the opportunity to take a deep “breath” while living with the earthquakes' consequences.
“Nefes centers are a ‘safe haven’ open to all people, especially to women and girls,” said Marcus Bachmann, MSF Emergency Coordinator. “Not only do they provide psychosocial support, but also washing machines, showers, and activities for children. They also offer separate rooms for mothers with newborns so they can breastfeed in peace.” said
"There was a need for a warm and safe place where people could feel comfortable and access psycho-social support and other services, so we created a space where psychologists and psychiatrists could also conduct individual sessions," said Hanen Çiftdoğan, Project Coordinator working for MSF-supported local NGO Imece Inisiyatifi.
Of course, the need for support persists.
"People are struggling to survive, said Selahattin, a survivor whose house collapsed in Malatya. The area is renowned for its apricots and was world's largest apricot producer until the earthquake temporarily shut down operations. "With psychological support, [MSF-supported teams] helped people to hold on to life."
All of MSF relief operations in Türkiye are carried out in partnership with local organizations, including Imece Inisiyatifi, Yardım Konvoyu, Maya Vakfı, and others. MSF-supported NGOs have delivered aid in Adıyaman, Gaziantep, Hatay, Kahramanmaraş, Kilis, and Malatya provinces.