Six months after the earthquake: Oxfam’s response in Türkiye and Syria

Publication date: 22 August 2023
Author: Dania Kareh, and Mia Tong with support from Matt Grainger Florence Ogola

On February 6, 2023, at 4:17 am, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit southern and central Türkiye and northern and western Syria, followed nine hours later by a 7.5 magnitude aftershock. Across the two countries, nearly 56,000 people were killed and more than 10 million left in urgent need of help. 

Thank you. Oxfam reached nearly A MILLION people

Oxfam reached 952,428 people across Syria and Türkiye with food, water and sanitation facilities, hygiene and health promotion, and protection interventions in the first six months of its emergency response phase. Oxfam thanks all our supporters and institutional donors who made this possible.

Shoulder-to-shoulder with local organisations and community groups

  • Our staff in Türkiye and Syria quickly assessed people’s most urgent needs in the worst affected areas and provided immediate aid to those who needed it most. We built our interventions where we had strength in presence and existing networks.
  • In Syria, Oxfam quickly scaled up its existing humanitarian programs which we have developed with our local partners, particularly in response to the past 12 years of conflict. In Türkiye, Oxfam KEDV tapped into its network of women’s cooperatives and community-led groups which have formed the basis of its work, on gender justice and women-led local development, over the past 35 years.

Our mission together now turns to recovery and rebuilding

  • Staff at Oxfam KEDV in Türkiye and Oxfam in Syria had to cope too with loss, stress and anxiety with what was happening among their family and friends. As Oxfam KEDV’s Executive Director Şengül Akçar says: “Everyone in Türkiye knows someone who was lost.”  Oxfam staff reconnected with local partners, refocused its programs, and worked through what is typically the first-six month’s “emergency and rescue” phase. Now begins the task of recasting this work into supporting people-led movements to contribute to long-term recovery and rebuilding efforts.

Münevver Tuvarlak with her family: “I took my children and ran. When the second quake happened, I started to panic. That night we stayed in our car for about six hours. I remember looking at the garden shake and thinking, this shouldn’t happen, gardens don’t shake like this. Before this I didn’t think I was afraid to die, but now I know. My friend lost her family and all we can do is cry”. 

CLEAN WATER, SANITATION and hygiene for 926,051 people

  • Our rapid emergency assessments in Türkiye and Syria established that very few women and girls had access to hygiene items in emergency shelters. Elderly people and people with disabilities could not easily access toilets and showers – in some places adults had to rely on diapers, and as many as 100 people were sharing a single latrine. Most facilities lacked buckets and mops, taps, locks, lights, and working sewage systems and water tanks. Clean water and functioning sanitation systems were of paramount need in both countries.
  • Oxfam KEDV reached 40,573 people with direct water and sanitation aid. Among the work completed, the team installed 1,222 latrines and distributed 2,776 water pumps and demijohn water containers. It distributed 99,750 litres of clean water around Hatay, enough for more than 5,600 people. It partnered with the Presidency of Migration Management authority at the Syrian refugee camp in Kahramanmaraş to repair a reservoir that 20,000 people rely upon for water. It trained 45 community-based volunteers to promote public health awareness messages and to distribute 3,606 hygiene kits, 3,819 menstrual kits and over 1,000 dignity and baby kits, helping more than 14,000 people.
  • Oxfam in Syria reached 885,478 people – 100% of its response program – with interventions of various kinds around water, sanitation and hygiene, including particularly helping communities to improve the treatment and removal of solid waste. Many thousands of these same people in Syria also received other kinds of Oxfam assistance over the first six months, for example around food, livelihood or protection services. Some of Oxfam’s work included its water engineers restoring 13 wells in Hama governate and giving more than 53,000 people access to clean water. Teams trucked in nearly 9 million litres of water to 64,489 people in collective shelters. In Aleppo Oxfam teams sanitized old water tanks and installed 74 new ones and ran a sewer and toilet cleaning program across 74 schools and mosques benefiting more than 5,000 people.
  • Oxfam KEDV and Oxfam in Syria have together spent 7,416,598 Euros on water, sanitation and hygiene servicing, delivery and in partnerships. This is Oxfam’s biggest sectoral spend in the first six months, collectively representing nearly 65% of our total spending.

Distribution of water to communities affected by the earthquake in Syria. Photo: Islam Mardini/Oxfam 

FOOD AND LIVELIHOODS – from daily bread to accessing to markets

  • In the first days, many earthquake survivors relied on food from friends, family and community volunteers. However, depending on the location, this food was at times barely sufficient and coordination was difficult. Food prices spiked when local markets started to function and many families – up to 40% from one of our assessments – said they were having to borrow money to get by. The earthquakes ruined job opportunities, trade and livelihoods, too.
  • In Syria, Oxfam focused on one-off emergency food assistance, distributing Ready-To-Eat hot meals and emergency multi-purpose cash assistance. It also reached out to work with the Department of Bakeries in Aleppo, Hama and Latakia to supply 74 tons of yeast. The reopening of the bakeries was a significant moment in the emergency response for people in these cities and surrounding areas – nearly 1.3 million people had immediate access to fresh food, and were able gain to access to bread, the staple diet in Syria, via the local markets.
  • In Türkiye, Oxfam KEDV partnered with four women’s cooperatives and community groups in Gaziantep, Hatay and Şanlıurfa to run community kitchens and distribute hot meals. Oxfam KEDV distributed 3,275 food kits to families across Hatay, and gave 1,700 bags of animal feed and seedlings to 924 farmers, including members of 4 women’s cooperatives. It also worked with the Samandağ Women’s Cooperative in Hatay to begin reconstructing the heavily damaged Vakıflı Gastronomy Village, a famous site known for its culinary and cultural heritage, and a focal point for local jobs and tourism.
  • Oxfam KEDV supported 30 women from the Arsuz Women’s Cooperative to make 2,100 sets of bed linen that were later included in its protection kits. After assessing the needs of women’s cooperatives, it began developing a support program to provide funding, materials and market support to the Ekodoku, Vakıfköy, Gaziantep, Zeugma, 3K 3Kadın, Hekimhan, Payas, Düziçi, Osmaniye and Kahramanmaraş Women’s Cooperatives to boost their food and textile trading, with Kahramanmaraş now selling its textile products at a large cosmetics chain.
  • Oxfam reached more than 92,000 people, and spent 844,356 Euros, on its general food and livelihoods responses between Oxfam KEDV and Oxfam in Syria, or around 7.4% of our total response over the first six months.

Members of the Arsuz Women’s Cooperative produced 2,100 sets of bed linen that were distributed to the community as part of Oxfam KEDV’s protection kits. Photo: Müge Aydın/Arsuz Women’s Cooperative

Protecting people’s safety, well-being and health

  • Oxfam assessed the extent of people needing psychological counselling for their trauma and distress. Many collective shelters and facilities had no separation of latrines, no locks on doors, no lights at night, and toilets were often located outside leaving many people feeling unsafe, especially women and girls. People said there was not enough space to move about with dignity in shelters, while some were concerned about harassment and kidnappings.
  • Oxfam KEDV and Oxfam in Syria together reached more than 36,000 people, with interventions and aid generally around protection, supporting hygiene, promoting community health, providing psychological support, and distributing different other kinds of “non-food or water” goods and services that people needed. The collective spending on these interventions was around 277,000 Euros, or 3% of Oxfam’s collective budget in the first six months.
  • For example, as the weather warmed into summer, Oxfam KEDV distributed 2,656 fans for cooling along with 473 fire extinguishers in temporary shelters in Hatay and Kahramanmaras. Within the first day, a community in Kahramanmaraş had to use several of these extinguishers to contain fires which broke out in their settlement.  In Syria, Oxfam provided hygiene essentials like soap, shampoo, jerry cans, diapers and sanitary pads to tens of thousands of people and conducted health and hygiene interventions and information promotions in schools and various communities to 207,756 people in Aleppo and Hama, encouraging hand-washing in order to avoid cholera and lice. 
  • Oxfam provided 15,000 packages including sanitary pads and solar lights to 3,490 women and girls living in shelters. We distributed 2,381 protection kits that included bed linens produced by the Arsuz Women’s Cooperative, along with rugs, flashlights and blankets, reaching 18,891 people, along with electric heaters and clothing to other communities. We partnered with two local NGOs, ASAM and IBC, to offer women and children psychosocial support and together, began setting up information hubs in the settlement areas, organizing counselling services and conducting case management and referrals for the most vulnerable people.  
  • Oxfam in Syria provided hygiene essentials like soap, shampoo, jerry cans, diapers and sanitary pads. We conducted health and hygiene interventions and information promotions in schools and various communities to 207,756 people in Aleppo and Hama, encouraging hand-washing in order to avoid cholera and lice. We distributed materials for community groups to clean latrines in collective shelters in Aleppo, reaching 17,991 people.  

Our focus on helping women and girls, through our partnerships

  • Oxfam KEDV collaborated directly with 20 different women’s cooperatives in Kahramanmaraş, Hatay, Gaziantep, Osmaniye, Şanlıurfa and Malatya. These networks and other women-led community groups – deeply rooted inside their communities – are helping to create more opportunities for decent livelihoods and income generation for women, and helping them to advocate collectively with local authorities for their social and economic rights. 
  • We partnered with Koç Holding and UN Women to open two women’s solidarity centres in new container cities in Hatay and Kahramanmaraş, spending 212,268 Euros. They include workshops and cafés to support women’s livelihoods, care responsibilities, and psychological well-being. Oxfam KEDV is also working to establish ten new Women’s and Children’s Centres with authorities across Hatay, Kahramanmaraş and Gaziantep, with three of them slated to open this August. They contain workshops to promote trade and income, childcare services, office spaces to support community organizing, laundry facilities and training and referral services on public health, wellbeing, counselling and safeguarding.   

Thank you for your incredible generosity

  • Oxfam thanks everyone who was part of the incredible outpouring of solidarity and donations from publics, allies, donors and governments around the world. Hundreds of thousands of people across Türkiye and Syria have benefited from your generosity in the immediate aftermath of the earthquakes. We can now work with these communities in the task of rebuilding their own lives and restoring their livelihoods.
  • Oxfam received 47,769,172 Euros in public donations and institutional grants (split between Syria 59% and Türkiye 41%) to mount three-year response plans in both countries. In the first six-months, Oxfam has spent 24% of this response budget, amounting to 11,352,727 Euros (apportioned between Syria 63% and Türkiye 37% in this emergency phase).
  • Oxfam’s individual supporters from countries all around the world gave more than 6m Euros in answer to our appeals. We particularly thank the UK Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC) in the UK and the Samenwerkende Hulporganisaties (SHO), or the Foundation of Cooperating Aid Organisations in the Netherlands, for each dispersing a similar contribution to Oxfam as part of their own highly successful public appeals, made on behalf of all participating humanitarian agencies. Among other generous institutional donors, we would like to include thanks to ECHO, UN Women, Edrington, Give2Asia, GAC, the German government, IrishAid, SIDA, the Dutch Relief Alliance, and Danida.