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Taking Its Toll: Physical & Psychological

Members of a search operation team recently rescued a woman, who was trapped under debris for 203 hours, in the southernmost Province of Hatay of earthquake-ravaged Turkey. It may be noted that a devastating earthquake, with its magnitude measuring 7.8 in the Richter Scale, followed by three strong tremors, rocked wide swaths of Turkey and Syria at 4:17am (local time) on February 6, 2023, killing more than 50,000 people (as on February 24). Ayesha (17) was trapped under the rubble for four days in the town of Kahramanmaraş after the disaster. Rescuer Viktor Holzer (26) struggled for eight hours to hold the girl’s hand after hearing her fading voice. Everyone, waiting away from the debris, burst into applause when Viktor managed to rescue Ayesha. Later, Viktor shared his experience of the past few days with media professionals at his Budapest residence.

Viktor volunteered with a rescue team sent from Hungary to the earthquake-affected areas of Turkey. Viktor, working for the IT Industry professionally, has never had such an experience before. He could not conceal his excitement, while talking about his rescue of the girl, who had been trapped under debris for four days. Viktor said that the rescue team traced the family members of Ayesha, and handed the girl over to them. However, many earthquake victims are not so lucky like Ayesha.

Fuat Oktay, the first and current Vice President of Turkey, has stated that the concerned authorities failed to trace parents of 574 children rescued from the rubble, and only 76 of them have been handed over to their nearest relatives. According to the Vice President, many parents still have not found their children. Thousands dial the emergency numbers, provided by the administration and voluntary organisations, everyday in search of their children. In the third week of February, Vice President Oktay stressed that the rescue operation was nearing its end, and foreign rescue teams started leaving Turkey. The death toll has already touched 50,000, while the Government of Turkey is yet to confirm the number of people who have been grievously injured. The Administration of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is worried about those who have lost everything, said the Vice President.

Serkan Tatoglu, a 41-year-old resident of Karahamanamaras and father-of-four, survived with his wife and children. They have taken shelter in a relief camp. Serkan has described how his family is haunted by their losses, saying that his six-year-old son is traumatised by the aftershocks. “Dad, are we going to die?” he repeatedly asked his father. In fact, the disaster has exacted a psychological toll, especially in Kahramanmaras, the epicentre of the quake. The future of Selma (52), too, is uncertain. She, along with her grandchildren, is spending days in a pathetic condition at a relief camp.

Psychologist Sueda Deveci of the Doctors Worldwide has stressed that adults need as much emotional support as children in the aftermath of such a tragedy. According to the psychologist, the older generations are “quicker to internalise the profound scale of how much their lives have changed, and just how much they have lost“. Sueda told the press: “One mother told me: ‘Everyone tells me to be strong, but I can’t do anything. I can’t take care of my kids, I can’t eat’.” Commenting on how the children are feeling from what they draw as they while away the time in the cold, she stated: “I don’t talk to them about the earthquake much. We are drawing. We will see how much of it is reflected in their drawings.

For his part, Child Rights expert Esin Koman has said that children, usually, adapt to their surroundings more quickly than adults. However, the quake’s destruction of existing social support networks left them dangerously exposed to long-term trauma, she added. Esin told the media: “Some children have lost their families. There is nobody now to provide them with mental support.” In a report, Turkish employers’ association Turkonfed has mentioned that the economic cost of the disaster could be as much as USD 84.1 billion, with nearly USD 71 billion of that for housing.

Meanwhile, international relief efforts to reach earthquake-ravaged Syria through the Turkish border are still going on. As most of the roads in the border areas remain closed, it has become difficult for international organisations to reach the rebel-held areas. On February 13, the UN held an emergency meeting to discuss how to boost aid to rebel-held areas. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, isolated and subject to Western sanctions, called for international assistance to help rebuild infrastructure in his country, where the UN estimates more than five million have been left homeless. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that President al-Assad agreed to open two more border crossings from Turkey to northwest Syria in order to receive aid.

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