• Emrah Özesen | Communications Specialist

In the outskirts of earthquake-ravaged Hatay's Defne district, two siblings, Layla* and Omar*, found themselves confronted with adult responsibilities and challenging circumstances that had befallen their lives.

While there was already a struggle for their families to build their lives after fleeing the conflict in Syria, they were uprooted by the disaster – along with countless others – and forced to seek refuge once again in a makeshift tent settlement. After the earthquakes, approximately 50 migrant families, most of them relatives, brought their limited resources together and moved to the outskirts of Defne, enduring a challenging journey of starting afresh while supporting each other.

Life in the tent settlement brought other challenges to Layla and Omar, and their shared responsibility to fetch water added an extra layer of hardship to their lives. With the limited water supply in the settlement, every day, Layla and Omar have to walk a kilometer uphill, their small feet barely covered with old plastic slippers braving the dirt road.

Layla and Omar, on their way to fetch water from a public tap. Emrah Özesen/IOM 2023

They would carry empty plastic bottles to collect the precious resource that would be used for cooking, drinking and washing the younger ones. In the midst of summer, under the scorching sun that bore down upon them, water, or the lack thereof, became a concern that they had to face daily. ‘‘My elders are already trying hard to keep running the life in our new home. That’s our part to provide some water for youngers to get clean, drink and eat,’’ Leyla said on her way up to the spring.

The public spring tap, located a kilometer away, became their daily destination, a beacon of refreshing hope amidst their struggles. They would splash some water to their faces to cool down, before they start to fill their big plastic bottles.

Layla and Omar fill their plastic bottles with water on the top of the hill. Emrah Özesen/IOM 2023

The burden of carrying water weighs heavy on their young shoulders. Yet, Layla and Omar, press on, fueled by their playful determination to have a responsibility and help their family. Their conversations during these walks were filled with moments of sibling camaraderie. Layla, the protective older sister, would encourage Omar to keep going.

Layla and Omar, carry full bottles back to their tent settlement. Emrah Özesen/IOM 2023

Access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) facilities is vital for individuals and public health, particularly during times of crisis when infrastructure is damaged. In partnership with donors, local and national authorities, IOM has provided 24,920 hygiene kits, 240 mobile latrines, 53 mobile showers, 300 garbage containers, 100 tons of liquid chlorine, 1,184,589 litres of water and 3,550 hygiene items to earthquake survivors in Türkiye, to address basic needs and mitigate public health risks.

IOM’s WASH activities for earthquake-affected populations are supported by the European Union, German Federal Foreign Office, Government of Japan, Government of Norway, UN Central Emergency Response Fund, U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM).

*The names of the individuals mentioned in this story have been changed to protect their privacy.