ASPIRE Reflects on the Earthquake in Syria and Turkey

February 24, 2023 @ 6:02 pm

ASPIRE Reflects on the Earthquake in Syria and Turkey

In the early morning hours of February 6, 2023, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck southeastern Turkey and northwestern Syria. As of February 18, the disaster had killed more than 46,000 individuals and injured, displaced, or otherwise impacted tens of thousands more. 

As with other natural disasters, this earthquake will likely increase problems related to health, security, education, and income both in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy and for many years to come. While care of physical injuries, identification of lost loved ones, and shelter, food, and medical supplies are urgently needed now, second and third waves of acute infections, chronic disease, and mental illness will follow. Each wave of physical, mental, and social health trauma increases risks of gender-based violence, early marriage, poor sexual and reproductive health, poor working conditions, child labor, survival sex, and worsening mental illness (e.g., stress, anxiety, post-traumatic stress) among those who have been affected. These problems disproportionately and negatively impact people already reeling from the compounded crises resulting from a global pandemic, the Syrian Civil War, resource shortages, and economic and political unrest in the region. Refugees, vulnerable Turks, women, and children are particularly at risk.

Here is a snapshot of what we may expect:

    • Gender-Based Violence (GBV)
      Physical and sexual intimate partner violence as well as community violence increase in times of humanitarian crisis. Community initiatives will be essential in mitigating the negative consequences of this disaster on health, mental health, and livelihoods. Prevention of GBV, including between intimate partners, is critical to the core of humanitarian efforts.
  • Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH)
    Interruptions to SRH in times of crisis can be devastating, as we’ve seen in multiple humanitarian disasters and repeatedly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Resultant decreases in contraceptive use, unplanned pregnancies, unsafe abortions, prenatal care, and delivery complications, among others, are especially dangerous as violence, and sexual violence in particular, increase during conflict and instability. Prevention of GBV is a related antidote to some of these concerns.
  • Mental Health
    Identified risk factors for post-traumatic stress include being female, disruptions in social support networks, injury or harm to yourself or your home, unemployment, and pre-existing illnesses. Pregnant and postpartum women are at higher risks of severe mental health problems depending on the severity of the exposure. Children and adolescents affected by earthquakes are also at risk of developing post-traumatic stress symptoms. Mental health must be prioritized at each stage of recovery and reconstruction, not postponed to later stages.

Since 2015, the ASPIRE team has worked with partners in Turkey on the Syrian refugee crisis. We anticipate the enormity of this tragedy and the short- and long-term consequences shouldered by citizens and non-citizens alike. While implementing agencies work on the ground to provide short-term relief efforts, long-term efforts are needed to combat the negative impacts of this humanitarian crisis related to social and health problems on women and children. 

Social workers can play important roles at micro and macro levels, engaging in trauma-informed practices and advocating for socially just policies. Social workers will be vital not only in supporting delivery of care, social support, and medical/health supplies but also providing mental health and sexual and reproductive services alongside humanitarian workers, rescue teams, and medical professionals. 

What can you do?

Here are few concrete ways you can support relief efforts in Syria and Turkey:

  1. Keep yourself and your contacts updated. Access reliable sources of information to learn about impacts and relief efforts. Share what you learn with friends, family, and colleagues.
  2. Support organizations in need. There are plenty of relief organizations to choose from. You can begin by visiting Charity Navigator, clicking “Earthquakes in Turkey and Syria,” and selecting specific efforts to which you’d like to donate (e.g., medical supplies, emergency housing). Or, check out ways Columbia and Barnard are responding. You can also visit the websites of specific organizations, such as:
    1. Based in both Syria and Turkey
      1. Care (Turkey and Syria Earthquake Fund)
      2. GlobalGiving (Turkey and Syria Earthquake Relief Fund)
      3. Karam Foundation (Earthquake Emergency Fund)
      4. Oxfam (Turkiye and Syria Earthquake)
      5. Save the Children (Children’s Emergency Fund)
      6. UNICEF USA (fund for children in Turkey and Syria)
    2. Based in Syria
      1. Mercy Corps (fund specific to Syria)
      2. Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) Foundation (Earthquake Relief Efforts in Syria)
    3. Based in Turkey
      1. Turkish Philanthropy Funds (Turkiye Earthquake Relief Fund)
  3. Share mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) resources with loved ones who are struggling with mental health following the disaster. Starter links can be found at mhpss.net

Regardless of how you choose to respond, know that you are not alone – whether you are feeling devastating loss yourself, are feeling numb toward the enormity of the tragedy, or are working through your feelings. There are resources to support you at Columbia and beyond.