One year after devastating earthquakes hit Türkiye and Syria

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One year after the deadliest earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria’s recent history, the impacts of the catastrophe continue to reverberate for children. For those in Syria, the impact is compounded by the effects of a wider ongoing humanitarian crisis.

The two initial devastating earthquakes on 6 February 2023, followed by thousands of aftershocks, killed and injured thousands of children across the two countries, left families homeless and without access to essential services, including safe water, education, and medical care, and increased protection risks for vulnerable children. Humanitarian assistance has provided a level of support, but, especially for children in Syria, persistent cycles of conflict and crisis continue to put children’s lives and well-being at risk. 

Across Syria, almost 7.5 million children remain in need of humanitarian assistance. In Türkiye, 3.2 million children still need essential services, with UNICEF planning to reach the 1.7 million most vulnerable children in 2024.

“The earthquakes that struck Türkiye and Syria a year ago turned the lives of millions of children upside down from one minute to the next. Thousands of lives were lost, while homes, schools and health centres were crushed, along with any sense of safety for many children,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell, who visited both countries just weeks after the initial earthquakes. “Government support and humanitarian efforts have helped families to slowly put their lives back together and have provided children with a way to process their experiences. But far too many families, especially in northern Syria, continue to be impacted by a humanitarian crisis that has no end in sight.”

In Syria, nearly 13 years of hostilities, destruction and continued humanitarian crises have put children in the middle of one of the most complex emergencies in the world. Nearly 7.5 million children require assistance because of a worsening economic crisis, continued localized hostilities, mass displacement and crumbling public infrastructure – with many basic services on the verge of collapse. Water and sanitation systems and public health services are under immense strain, following years of little to no investment. This has put children at risk of recurrent disease outbreaks, compounded by a prolonged drought and water crisis, and food insecurity, contributing to increased child malnutrition and mortality. Around 90 per cent of families in the country live in poverty, while more than 50 per cent are food insecure.

The ongoing economic crisis is also worsening negative coping mechanisms and particularly affecting female-headed households while contributing to the normalization of gender-based violence and child exploitation.

In Türkiye, the earthquakes disrupted education for more than 4 million children. UNICEF supported almost a million of these children with access to formal and non-formal education. While great efforts have been made to increase access to education, many children in the affected areas in Türkiye remain out of school. 

UNICEF has been working with government and civil society partners to respond to the immediate and long-term needs of 4.7 million people, including 2.4 million children. This has included providing more than 1.5 million children and caregivers with mental health and psychosocial support, and reaching more than 3 million people with safe water.

UNICEF in Türkiye is appealing for US$116 million to continue its work to support children affected by the earthquakes, and build back a resilient foundation for longer-term development. 

In Syria, UNICEF’s 2024 appeal requires US$401.7 million to provide an essential lifeline to 8.5 million people, including 5.4 million children. The greatest funding requirements are for water and sanitation, health, and education, while protection continues to be a high priority.

“The situation for the affected children in Türkiye continues to improve, but there is still much to be done,” said Russell. “In Syria, the humanitarian situation for children and families continues to worsen. Without more humanitarian efforts and resources to restore essential services like education, water and sanitation systems, children in Syria will continue to face a vicious cycle of deprivation and crisis.”

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