Food, home, chance – the motto of Hungarian Interchurch Aid echoes the needs of those living in the earthquake-affected regions of Türkiye. As the emergency entered the humanitarian stage, HIA staff conducted assessments to identify the needs of the inhabitants requiring assistance and started organising relief efforts. Reaching out for those in need of food, housing and education, HIA’s aid programme announced in March lays the foundation for long-term assistance in Türkiye – the need of which becomes obvious the instant one talks to the people affected. This is the first part of our three-part report on the situation in Hatay.

Sunshine, palm trees, ancient cities: that’s what most people think when Turkey’s Mediterranean coastline comes up. The picturesque Hatay province, inhabited since ancient times and home to the world’s first Christian churches, is no longer the most descriptive of these words: the massive earthquake that struck the region in February devastated towns and cities. More than 230,000 buildings completely collapsed, burying 50,000 people in Turkey alone, forcing another 1.7 million into tents and leaving nearly 3 million homeless. Behind the numbers, however, are the broken lives, torn families and the livelihoods of the 9 million people severely affected.

Hungarian Interchurch Aid’s announced aid programme also covers the province of Hatay, which was badly hit by the earthquake. Here, demolition of the ruins has already begun, but rebuilding may have to wait years. Sandwiched between the mountains and the sea, Iskenderun’s once upmarket seaside promenade is lined with damaged and empty beach restaurants with sea seeping through the coastal embankment into the otherwise well-maintained park. Along the promenade several tents were put up, where residents of houses nearby have been moved to.

Esma sits outside her tent, the sea breeze blowing in her grey hair. We strike up a conversation, but she asks me not to take a photo because she’s afraid of the consequences. “My husband and I live in this tent together,” she says pointing to the red fishing tent on the promenade. “We got it from our landlord. Obviously, it’s better than nothing, but I’m completely at the mercy of the helping organisations. We have no fridge, nothing to cook with. The food we get every day is practically inedible. So sometimes I sneak back into the apartment, even though I know I shouldn’t. My husband is terrified, so I have to do it.” What is the way out of this situation, I ask – she, like others, wants a container home. The large number of applicants however means that she will have to wait a long time before her situation improves.

Ever since she received the tent she’s been waiting and watching the sea. “It will come from there – it’s not a question of if, but when. We can’t even sleep like this.” Her wrinkled face tells her story better than her words. “There is a fault line between Cyprus and Iskenderun, where there has not been any tectonic activity – yet. The experts who predicted the recent, huge quake are now saying that this is where the next quake is likely to happen. And you see, our tents have been put here, 3 metres from the water, 40 centimetres from the sea level,” says Esma, referring to the possibility that an underwater quake could trigger a tsunami, which would leave them little chance of survival if they were to stay there. Esma ended up being wrong in the end, but there’s no happy end: their tent would end up being washed away weeks later, not by a tsunami, but by wind-whipped waves, as this social media post shows.

So many of the millions made homeless by the catastrophe are still in constant need of assistance – the greatest need clearly being housing. Apart from the housing situation, constant supply of emergency essential aid remains paramount, as most of the people affected by the earthquake have also lost their livelihoods as a consequence. It is for them that Hungarian Interchurch Aid has launched its aid programme in Türkiye, the cornerstone of which is the installation of residential and sanitary containers in the camps of the earthquake-ridden region. Apart from containers, HIA also provides essential relief items like non-perishable food and hygiene products to those living in tents.

Hungarian Interchurch Aid continues to raise funds to help the victims of the earthquake. You too can support our efforts by donating on our website – if you’d prefer to support our work in Turkey By bank transfer, please put “earthquake” as a transfer notice.

Bank’s name: OTP Bank Nyrt.

Account name: Hungarian Interchurch Aid

IBAN Nr. (EUR): HU 13-1176-3842-0065-8885-00000000

IBAN Nr. (USD): HU 39-1176-3842-0073-9012-00000000

Swift code: OTPVHUHB