Older People’s Needs Must Be Urgently Addressed in the Aftermath of 2 Powerful Earthquakes in Turkey and Syria

Older people must not be overlooked in the response to the earthquake which struck near the Syrian border in southeastern Turkey. In the early hours of Feb. 6, 2023, an earthquake of 7.8 magnitude struck Turkey and Syria, followed by another 7.5 magnitude earthquake a few hours later. The death toll has now passed 11,000 – and the numbers are expected to rise.
“The freezing temperatures and already harsh conditions mean that utmost urgency must be given to the response of this earthquake,” said Samuel Wood, HelpAge International’s Head of Inclusive Humanitarian Action.
“Older people are one of the most at-risk and disadvantaged groups in these circumstances. They face challenges in accessing adequate emergency shelter as well as essential supplies and services and are exposed to greater health risks because of the freezing temperatures. But we know from experience that the humanitarian system is not set up to cater to their specific needs and they are often left behind in the immediate response,” added Samuel Wood.
As humanitarian organizations put together plans to deliver shelter, food, and heating for those in need, HelpAge urges them to ensure that older people are factored in to rescue and relief efforts, with particular attention paid to older women and older people with disabilities.
HelpAge is working with its partners, the Syrian Expatriates Medical Association (SEMA) and Hope Revival, to assess the impact and needs to develop an appropriate humanitarian response that is inclusive of older people, especially older women and those with disabilities. Our partners in Turkey and Syria are informing us that older people affected by these earthquakes require:
  • Essential items such as ready-to-eat meals and non-food items
  • Emergency cash assistance for the most vulnerable families
  • Temporary shelters for the families
  • Winterisation items (heating, blankets etc) as they have lost their homes and are facing harsh winter conditions
  • Psychological support especially for women and children
However, emergency staff members have been injured in the earthquake. One SEMA staff member, Basem Shaher, spent last night in a car in the freezing cold with his wife and children, including a 15-day-old baby. They are now sheltering in a mosque.
Speaking from Gaziantep, Basem Shaher said: “This is the worst situation I have seen for a long time. They are still pulling people and bodies from the collapsed buildings, so we know the numbers of casualties will increase. Over 500 buildings have collapsed in Gazientep. 
“It’s snowing right now and it’s absolutely freezing. We are highly concerned for everyone who has been forced out of their homes in the freezing temperatures. We are particularly worried about the older Syrian refugees whose circumstances have already deteriorated due to years of living in appalling conditions in displaced people’s camps. We urgently need to help get to them, but it is extremely challenging with most of the routes into northwest Syria inaccessible; many roads are badly damaged and phone lines are down.”
HelpAge will continue to work our partners in Turkey and Syria to support the humanitarian efforts, ensuring that it is inclusive of older people and all those who risk being marginalized in the sidelines of the response.
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