Turkiye_Shelter full of earthquake survivors
Photo: Jalal Alhamad/CARE

Türkiye: “With unhygienic, cramped living conditions, the threat of a disease outbreak is very real.”

Hazal Guvercinci is a WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) and Shelter Engineer working with CARE’s emergency response team in Hatay, Türkiye to support communities affected by the devastating February earthquakes. She describes the persistent difficulties faced by women and girls and warns for looming health risks in the wider region as a result of the poor hygiene and sanitation conditions following the destruction of water networks and infrastructure.   

CARE’s emergency team has been working non-stop since day one after the earthquakes to respond to the immediate and emerging needs of people affected in Türkiye. Right now, we are working on distributing water bottles, sanitation, and hygiene items to men, women, and children in Hatay's informal settlements.

Hatay is the province most affected by the earthquake and the needs are immense. People live in tents in formal and informal settlements, and while the current living conditions may vary from location to location, the one thing we keep hearing in every place we have visited so far is the need for access to clean water. People depend on humanitarian aid and distributions to have drinking water. The Turkish authorities are working to rehabilitate the water network and clean the damaged pipes, but it will take time to complete the rehabilitation work. 

It is estimated that 1.6 million are currently living in informal settlements or in rural areas close to their destructed homes across the earthquake affected areas in Türkiye.

People also report lack of hygiene and sanitation products, like soap and towels; and challenges to reach clean and safe sanitation facilities. What we hear from women though is quite alarming, not only with regards to their health, but also with regards to their safety. They report their biggest concern is having access to safe sanitation facilities. They often lack privacy and do not feel secure to simply go to the toilet. At night, there are no lights, and often they must walk long distances in the dark. Some women prefer to travel outside the settlements, in nearby relatives’ houses - that are still standing or are partially damaged - to have a shower. 

Before and during distributions, we do rapid needs assessments to understand people’s most immediate needs and to ensure what we provide is on point and helpful. We have questionnaires, and we go from door to door to record the needs. As we move forward, we keep updating our questionnaires to make sure we cover thoroughly and in detail what people report in terms of the kind of support and items they need the most.

As part of the rapid needs assessment, we also visit informal settlements to check the status of hygiene and sanitation facilities, to identify what we need to rehabilitate and if showers and toilets are easily accessible by, and safe for everyone, and most importantly for people with disabilities, and women and girls who in such crisis are among the ones heavily affected. 

"In such harsh and poor sanitation conditions, it is no surprise that we start seeing a growing number of diarrhea cases, as well as scabies and lice infestations. With unhygienic, cramped living conditions, the threat of a disease outbreak is very real."

The work CARE is doing to improve the sanitation facilities and to ensure access to hygiene items is crucial for both the prevention of a potential disease outbreak and the safety of women and girls. The hygiene kits we distribute include soap, combs, sponges, jerry cans, toothbrushes and toothpaste, towels, tissues, detergent, and shampoo. The dignity kits which are designed specifically for women include underwear, sports bra, sewing kit, lice shampoo; but also, flashlights and whistles to use in case of emergency.  

I hope that by improving the sanitation facilities, access to clean water and through our hygiene distributions, we can prevent the spread of potential diseases. As a woman and as a person with origins from Hatay, every day is exceedingly difficult for me emotionally. Every day is intense. But at the same time, every day is rewarding.   

I hope that our work will make things better for the thousands of people affected by the earthquakes across Hatay. People need to be transferred to better and safer accommodation, access to basics such as clean water and safe and dignified sanitation facilities. We will keep working to improve the conditions and to prevent the worst. 

"Every member of our team has been impacted by the earthquake. Our life changed overnight, but we feel better when we are working to support people affected."

Additional notes to editors:  

Lack of access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities across the earthquake affected areas is particularly concerning as it can lead to poor health outcomes, the spread of diseases, and exacerbate existing vulnerabilities. To respond to the immediate needs in the region, CARE, with the support of the European Union, is focusing its response on informal settlements housing people in the most affected provinces of south-central Türkiye by providing safe and clean water, mobile latrines, and hygiene items. Since the earthquakes, CARE has reached more than 30,000 individuals through its water, sanitation, and hygiene related activities, which include distributions of drinking water, hygiene kits, and portable toilets. In total, we have distributed more than 174,000 kits.