Syria and Türkiye: 5 ways UNICEF is supporting children after the earthquakes
Hundreds of thousands of families and children are in urgent need of assistance.
While the scale of catastrophe is still emerging, the impact of the earthquakes that struck Syria and Türkiye on 6 February is clear.
Tens of thousands of people died following the initial earthquakes and aftershocks, with hundreds of thousands more left facing unimaginable uncertainty and hardship.
Families with children are sleeping in the streets, malls, schools, mosques and bus stations – having lost their homes, or for fear of returning to unsafe buildings. Those now exposed to the elements at a time of year when temperatures are dangerously cold are in the tens of thousands.
The earthquakes have also caused irreparable damage to critical infrastructure, compromising access to safe water, sanitation and other vital needs.
UNICEF has been working around the clock to provide life-saving assistance. Together with partners, our teams on the ground are distributing essential supplies to those affected by the earthquakes and providing safe spaces for children to feel protected, connect with others, and begin to cope.
But the needs are incalculable, and the challenges complex.
Here are five ways UNICEF has been supporting children and their families, and how you can help:
Providing safe drinking water
The destruction of homes and vital infrastructure disrupts families’ access to safe drinking water, toilets and other sanitation facilities. Such disruptions leave families vulnerable to waterborne disease outbreaks, which can be life-threatening to children.
Critical water and sanitation systems – like water pumping and treatment plants, water towers, sewage systems and water tanks in camps for families who were already displaced prior to the earthquakes – have been affected across Syria. This increases the risk of cholera and acute watery diarrhoea.
In Aleppo, UNICEF is reaching children and families in earthquake-impacted areas with access to clean water through trucking. Water quality is checked at the source and at distribution points to ensure its safety.
Supporting health and nutrition services
Numerous hospitals and medical facilities have been damaged or destroyed by the quakes. With the disruption in access to essential health services, many who survived the tremors may fall into life-threatening circumstances while cut off from maternal health care, disease prevention and treatment services, and other critical medical attention. Cold weather, along with the loss of shelter and clean water and sanitation, contribute to the rising risk of infectious disease outbreaks.
In Syria, UNICEF has deployed mobile health and nutrition teams to provide services and supplies to those in need, including those who have taken refuge in shelters. In Türkiye, UNICEF will complement the Government’s humanitarian response, working to reinforce life-saving support for vulnerable children, young people and their families, including by coordinating with the Government on the dispatch of essential supplies like hygiene kits.
Shipping essential supplies
Hundreds of thousands of children and families have been left facing desperate conditions, in need of warmth, shelter and essential supplies. In the first week following the earthquakes, UNICEF shipped more than 70 tonnes of life-saving supplies from its global hubs in Copenhagen and Dubai, while simultaneously mobilizing supplies already pre-positioned in-country.
In Türkiye, UNICEF has dispatched hygiene kits, blankets and winter clothes for children. In Syria, UNICEF’s immediate humanitarian response has included the provision of warm winter clothes and medical supplies.
Providing psychosocial support
The earthquakes have upended the lives of millions of children across Syria and Türkiye – many of whom have lost their families, friends, homes and schools. Children and young people are facing unprecedented levels of traumatic stress. And for the many already coping with more than a decade of conflict in Syria, theirs is a childhood defined by crisis.
To quickly expand the reach of psychosocial support for children, UNICEF trained dozens of trainers on psychological first aid in the wake of emergencies. We’re also providing recreational kits so that tens of thousands of children receive the means to play, connect with peers, and regain a sense of normalcy amid the chaos.
In both Türkiye and Syria, child protection is a high priority for UNICEF, including the identification and reunification of separated and unaccompanied children and the provision of psychosocial support to children who may have been exposed to traumatizing experiences. In Türkiye, UNICEF, in coordination with the Government, has deployed social workers to hospitals to help identify unaccompanied and separated children and to ensure their basic needs are met.
Helping children continue their education
Many children who have lost their homes have also lost the safety of their schools, along with their most foundational spaces for learning. Schools provide more than a place for education; they also enable a sense of normalcy, and a way to help children cope with the trauma of disaster.
In Syria, UNICEF is prioritizing its support for the safe reopening of schools in affected areas, ensuring children can resume their education in a safe environment with adequate facilities. UNICEF is also conducting school safety assessments: Undertaking repairs of broken windows and doors on buildings that have sustained light damage will help get students back into the classroom safely, sooner.
In Türkiye, UNICEF will support the Government to ensure the continuity of education, early childhood development services, and learning in temporary accommodation. This includes providing recreational, teaching and learning materials. UNICEF will also support the Government’s plans to set up school tents and prefabricated classrooms in locations where school buildings can no longer be used.