“I lost everything in one minute”: Women and girls in dire need as earthquake emergency engulfs Türkiye and Syria

UNFPA teams arrive in Diyarbakır, in Türkiye, to provide emergency health and protection assistance for tens of thousands of people affected by two devastating earthquakes that hit Türkiye and Syria on 6 February. © Eren Korkmaz
  • 10 February 2023

SYRIA/TÜRKIYE – “We were too scared. We left our houses immediately and couldn’t take anything for the birth, not a single baby cloth. There was no one to communicate with and no place to stay. We felt helpless.” 

Buseyna fled her home in Adıyaman, one of the cities worst hit by the devastating earthquakes that struck Türkiye and Syria on Monday. As the nearest hospitals were overwhelmed with casualties, Busenya travelled over 100 kilometres with her mother to Şanlıurfa, seeking help from a UNFPA-supported women and girls’ safe space: It was there that she gave birth to a baby girl, Meha. “You reached us, helped with the birth and gave me a bag with everything we needed,” she told UNFPA. 

A large group of people stand on top of a collapsed building.
Rescue efforts in Lattakia, Syria continue in areas affected by the earthquakes. © UNFPA Syria/Mosaic

Early in the morning of 6 February, while most people were still sleeping, a powerful earthquake rocked Türkiye, carving death and destruction in the country’s southeast and in neighbouring Syria. Hours later, as people were still being pulled from the rubble, a second quake struck – ending yet more lives, flattening houses, destroying hospitals and trapping thousands of people in perilous, freezing conditions. 

Among the estimated 15 million people affected in Türkiye are over 214,000 pregnant women – of whom almost 24,000 are due to give birth in the next month. Tens of thousands of people have lost their homes and belongings, exposing particularly women, girls and newborns to severe risks of illness and violence. The earthquakes ravaged the lives of people who often were already deeply vulnerable, including refugees from the war in Syria who were living in southern Türkiye and many internally displaced in northwest Syria. 

Prioritizing health, protection for women and girls

In Lattakia, one of the worst-hit governorates in Syria, Om Mohamed looked on in anguish at the splintered remnants of her neighbourhood. “I woke up to realize that I lost everything in one minute – no home, no clothes, no money, nothing at all. I’m speechless, I have lost any hope to live anymore.” 

In Aleppo, the situation was just as desperate. “My home was my shelter and safe space for me and my kids, but now I am so afraid to go back there – it might collapse at any moment,” said Mohannad, as she sought what refuge she could find in the streets. 
UNFPA safe spaces in Syria are ensuring prevention and response services for gender-based violence, which spikes during crises as support structures collapse and chaos ensues. Hospitals, health centres and safe spaces in Aleppo, Lattakia and Hama are also being provided with dignity kits and maternity kits for pregnant women and new mothers. The kits include soap, a baby blanket, diapers and postpartum pads and will help people cover their essential needs and those of their newborns. 

Thousands of pregnant women in Syria will need urgent access to maternal health support, including emergency obstetric care and caesarean sections – operations that could turn life-threatening if health centres are not fully functioning – in many cases not even standing. 

UNFPA is also distributing thousands of blankets and packages of warm clothes, while more than 20 mobile teams, made up of a gynaecologist, midwife and psychosocial support worker, are taking reproductive health and protection services to women and girls in the three most impacted areas of Aleppo governorate. 

Two trucks with hundreds of reproductive health kits are being sent to northwest Syria, part of the first cross-border humanitarian aid to reach an area that was already in the grips of a protracted crisis before the earthquakes struck. 

Two women sit with young children in a room and speak with a UNFPA staff member.
A UNFPA staff member talks with Rojin, who is sheltering with her family in a factory in Diyarbakır, in Türkiye. The family are refugees from Syria who are now sharing a single room  with another family. © Eren Korkmaz
A supply truck sits on an icy road.
UNFPA is providing tens of thousands of dignity kits that had been prepositioned for quick distribution. The kits contain essential items for women and girls, and additional supplies are arriving over the coming days to help meet immediate needs. © UNFPA Syria

Pregnancy and childbirth don't stop in a crisis

For 22-year-old Hatice*, also from Şanlıurfa, the fear and shock of the quake caused her to go into early labour. She reached a nearby health facility in time to give birth safely, but quickly realized she didn’t have any supplies for her newborn: All her belongings were trapped in the debris of her former home. After receiving a UNFPA maternal health kit and postnatal counselling, she said, “I am still scared to go out of the hospital, but at least my baby is safe.”

As of 10 February, an estimated 20,000 people have died in the crisis, with untold numbers injured: The figures are only expected to become clear as rescue teams clear the wreckage and the true scale of the disaster emerges. 

Sitting exhausted in the freezing temperatures of Aleppo, Ameera said, “It is extremely cold, we need blankets, mattresses and winter clothes: We are sleeping in public parks after our home collapsed.” 

With essential medical supplies wiped out across the two countries and hundreds of health centres, maternity facilities and safe spaces damaged, health-care providers are struggling to manage even life-threatening conditions. UNFPA is on the ground across affected areas in both Türkiye and Syria and remains dedicated to re-establishing services critical to the well-being and protection of millions of vulnerable, traumatized women and girls in urgent need of care and support. 

*Name changed for privacy and protection. 

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