Families need urgent help to rebuild their lives

A portrait of Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of UNICEF UK.
Jon Sparkes Chief Executive of the UK Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK). 9th March 2023
A destroyed school in Antakya, Hatay Province, Türkiye, photographed on 5 March 2023. Photo by UNICEF.

A destroyed school in Antakya, Hatay Province, Türkiye, photographed on 5 March 2023. Photo by UNICEF.

The recent earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria have devastated the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Their main focus in recent weeks has been survival. Now we need to do all we can to help them to rebuild their lives, writes Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of the UK Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK).

One month on from the two catastrophic earthquakes that struck southern Türkiye and Syria, more than 850,000 children remain displaced after being forced from their damaged or destroyed homes.

The number of children killed and injured during the quakes and their aftermath has not yet been confirmed but is likely to be in the many thousands. The combined death toll from the earthquakes and aftershocks has reached more than 50,000 people with thousands of others injured and massive destruction to buildings and other essential infrastructure.

The impact has been catastrophic

The impact of the earthquakes on the region’s children and families has been catastrophic, leaving hundreds of thousands in desperate conditions. Many families have lost their homes and are now living in temporary shelters.

In Türkiye alone, over 1.9 million people are staying in temporary accommodation shelters with limited access to basic services such as water, sanitation and medical services in the affected areas. 2.5 million children in the country require urgent humanitarian assistance.

We need to help families rebuild their lives

Families forced from their homes by the earthquakes have spent the past four weeks focused on survival with their lives on hold. Now, it is now critical that we do all we can to help families begin to rebuild their lives – providing children with psychosocial support, getting them back into learning as soon as possible, and providing some stability amid the chaos.

In Syria, more than 500,000 people are believed to have been forced from their homes by the earthquakes. Many families’ homes have been destroyed and many children are afraid to return to damaged homes as aftershocks continue. Even before the earthquakes, Syria had the largest number of internally displaced people in the world, with 6.8 million people displaced – including nearly three million children. Across Syria, more than 3.7 million children have been affected by the quakes.

Millions of people in Syria are living on the brink of disaster

Even before these catastrophic earthquakes, humanitarian needs among children of Syria were higher than they have ever been. As we approach 12 long years of conflict, millions of families are living on the brink of disaster, feeling as if the world has forgotten them. We must support these families for the long term, helping them pick up the pieces of their lives.

In Türkiye and Syria, UNICEF has played a crucial role in getting services up and running to support the urgent needs of children and families affected by the earthquakes. In Syria, we are working to ensure access to clean water and nutrition, and seeking to secure children’s safety and wellbeing. While in Türkiye, we have provided vital emergency supplies and ensured access to safe spaces for children and families. 

A comprehensive, integrated response to support children and families is critical in preventing these threats from overwhelming an already catastrophic situation. 

Children have seen their whole world crumble before their eyes, but we will help them to start rebuilding. By providing children with psychosocial support, play and education, we can start to give them stability, which is immeasurably important in ensuring their long-term wellbeing.

Jon Sparkes is Chief Executive of the UK Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK).

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