1707202230 Living among the ruins of the Turkiye earthquake a year

Living among the ruins of the Türkiye earthquake a year later

When it rains in Antioquia, the streets fill with mud and huge puddles form on the streets, preventing one from seeing the huge holes in the asphalt caused by the earthquake and the movement of trucks and excavators during demolition and removal The city was damaged by rubble. . If it doesn't rain, it's even worse. The particles of what were once houses, shops and monuments float around, covering everything with a layer of dust. The plants and trees that decorated the city take on a gray hue. There are days when, from the surrounding mountains, you can see an artificial cloud hovering over the capital of Hatay province, the most affected by the earthquake that killed more than 60,000 people a year ago this Tuesday More than three million homeless people arrived in southern Turkey and northern Syria.

“Now with the rains we are doing better, otherwise the air carries a lot of dust,” complains Baris, a teenager living in a container house in a government-setup camp in Samandag, a town south of Antioquía, at the mouth of the river lives the Orontes. There, right where the waters of the river flow into the Mediterranean, there is a huge garbage dump, where the remains of the buildings collapsed during the earthquake and were demolished after they were deposited. They are mounds over 10 meters high, made of cement rubble, metal rods, pieces of wood and even some clothes. At its summit, crusted by passing machinery, the remains of old houses consist only of sand, easily carried away by gusts of air. In the lower part, two excavators and several workers are once again busy clearing the rubble because the authorities have granted them a license to search for metal, which they then sell as scrap metal.

Safety regulations state that before demolishing a building, materials that may contain toxic substances must be removed: asbestos in old roofs and insulation material, lead in pipes, mercury in fluorescent tubes and electronic equipment… But the area affected by the earthquake is so huge (larger than all of Portugal), the destruction is so great (680,000 homes and 170,000 commercial, industrial and agricultural areas) and the need to build new houses is so urgent that the authorities have prioritized speed over safety.

According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the earthquake has generated 100 million cubic meters of debris, ten times more than the 2010 Haiti earthquake. And there is hardly any hoses or irrigation systems being used to deal with it – which would reduce the rise of Particles into the air – and operators are also not wearing the mandatory masks, “which poses a risk to public health,” according to a report by the NGO Support to Life.

Excavators work in a rubble dump of buildings destroyed by the earthquake in Samandag, Hatay province, looking for metals to sell as scrap. Excavators work in a rubble dump of buildings destroyed by the earthquake in Samandag, Hatay province, looking for metals to sell as scrap. Andres Mourenza

The government assures that 91% of the demolition and debris removal has already been completed, but “the uncovering [a materiales peligrosos] “It is not yet finished,” complains Sevdar Yilmaz, president of Hatay Medical College: “The garbage is dumped near water sources, fields and inhabited areas. As soon as there is a little wind, it will kick up dust again.”

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In the fall, the Turkish Doctors' Union (TTB), together with the Platform for the Right to Clean Air, carried out measurements at various points in the earthquake-affected provinces (container towns, grain fields, towns). Asbestos, a material whose inhalation can cause various types of lung cancer, was found in more than a third of the samples collected in Antioch and Kahramanmaras and in a tenth of those collected in Elbistan and Adiyaman. “In the medium term, we will see an increase in respiratory diseases and cancers and the life expectancy of people in the region will decrease,” says Yilmaz.

Türkiye's Garden

The earthquake and the rubble did not only harm people's health. The affected provinces are responsible for 20% of Turkey's food production, particularly the plain of Hatay Province, whose alluvial soils – so dangerous for the construction of buildings – are very fertile for agriculture. “More than a third of the population of these provinces makes their living from agriculture,” said the UN Food and Agriculture Agency (FAO): “An initial assessment shows that agriculture has suffered severe damage, amounting to $1 .3 billion dollars.” [a infraestructura agrícola] and losses of $5.1 billion [por la pérdida de cosechas y el aumento de precios de alimentos que supone]“.

“This year production was lower because the earthquake damaged the wells and aquifers,” says Mehmet, a seller of salça (tomato paste or concentrated pepper) in the Antioquia market. “The olive trees have also produced less because of the dust,” says Orhan, who sells olives. The earthquake also affected the production of tobacco and apricots, the main agricultural products of Adiyaman and Malatya provinces.

Further south, in Samandag, citrus production was overwhelming. And yet, most tangerines rot on trees or on the ground in orchards. “It’s ruin,” complains Hussein, a producer. They offer him so little money for the tangerines that it's not worth it for him to pick them. The reason, explains Trifon Yumurta, a local priest, is that the companies that bought from them for export to Russia, Romania and other countries did not show up this year: “Maybe they are afraid of going to the earthquake zone come.”

The image of trees full of unpicked fruit in Samandag contrasts with the situation in the refugee camps a few dozen kilometers to the north. According to a TTB study, most children in container cities do not have access to adequate nutrition, they consume less fruit and significantly less meat and fish than recommended. The result is that more than 10% of children under the age of two show symptoms of malnutrition and their weight and height are significantly below average. This is because more than half of families do not have a regular income beyond the support of 100 to 150 euros per month that they receive from the state and three quarters do not have a permanent job and have difficulties accessing food in cities such as Antioquia, where many businesses remain closed.

Skin problems such as scabies and stomach problems are common in the camps due to overcrowding and poor hygiene. The TTB claims to have found E. coli and other potentially harmful bacteria in Antioch's tap water. The central and local governments have disputed this point, although they have not dared to say clearly whether the city's water can be consumed or not. “Both the earthquake and the work of excavators and heavy machinery have damaged the sewer and sewage systems, which can lead to mixing of drinking water with wastewater,” explains Yilmaz.

The doctors left in the area are unable to cope with the situation. The health system collapsed during the earthquake and although three hospitals in Antioquia have been rebuilt, the number of available beds is 1,300, half the number before the earthquake. It has also failed to restore basic services: the 66 centers available to the city remain closed and almost half of the medical staff are missing because they have died, been injured or emigrated. “The vaccination rate among children has fallen from 98% to less than half. And what we have long feared is beginning to happen: in Kirikhan [otra localidad de la provincia de Hatay] “We have identified an outbreak of hepatitis A with at least 40 cases,” complains the head of the medical association.

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