• Mehmet Boran | Senior Communications Associate

Before the 6th of February 2023, no one in southeast Türkiye could have imagined that their lives would turn upside down. 

Overnight, a series of devastating earthquakes changed everything. Thousands lost their lives, while millions were left homeless. The affected region already hosted many Syrians who fled the war, leaving them and their host communities more vulnerable. 

In the aftermath of any disaster, needs are wide: shelter, food, healthcare. Vital water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure are crippled. Where does one use the toilet when bathrooms have disappeared? How does one shower without access to water? 

Makbule, who lives in Kahramanmaraş Province, now knows this challenge first-hand. 

"There were many people whose houses were destroyed, including me. We faced a lot of difficulties,” she remarked. “We didn’t have any hygiene products, cleaning materials, or diapers for babies.” 

A wide range of hygiene items was available in bazar-like markets for earthquake survivors to purchase using e-vouchers. Photo: IOM/Mehmet Boran

WASH interventions are critical in times of crises. They save lives, prevent disease outbreaks and help people restore a sense of dignity. 

With support from the European Union, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) collaborated with local authorities in Kahramanmaraş and Hatay – two of the most impacted provinces – on a comprehensive effort to strengthen WASH services in seven temporary settlements. This includes providing safe and clean water, delivering hygiene items, improving sanitation facilities and conducting hygiene promotion activities. 

The distribution of e-vouchers further empowered earthquake survivors to purchase hygiene necessities according to their needs. 2,000 households in both provinces received vouchers worth over TRY 3,700 (approximately USD 115), which they could redeem at a makeshift market. 

“We prepared a comprehensive package from which recipients could make their own informed choices. They could obtain a wide range of products: toothpaste, toothbrushes, dish soap, bath soap, shampoo, hair conditioner, towels, cloths, wet wipes, diapers, nail clippers and more,” explained Mehmet Ali Kılıç, a member of IOM’s WASH team. 

This was complimented by e-vouchers worth TRY 200 (approximately USD 6) to purchase water. 

For Makbule, this support was timely: “We were able to shop for hygiene supplies. This was very useful for earthquake survivors.” 

Fevzi, another recipient, recalled the poor hygiene conditions in the months following the earthquakes. “The demand for cleaning materials increased significantly. With the vouchers we received a week ago, we were able to buy the materials we needed.” 

“Our residents benefitted greatly from the vouchers,” expressed Mukhtar Hüseyin of Kahramanmaraş’ Donuklu District, pointing to water, shampoo and washing powder that were in route to being distributed. 

Mukhtar Hüseyin (right) poses with Mehmet (left), another settlement resident awaiting to claim his selected items. Photo: IOM/Mehmet Boran

For earthquake survivors like Makbule and Fevzi, the journey to full recovery remains long. In their communities, various stakeholders continue efforts to address outstanding needs. 

Yet, the ability to purchase vital hygiene items was one step toward restoring a sense of dignity – which was so unfairly stripped from many by the tragedy. 

"Thanks to this, earthquake survivors here are taking the first steps towards a new beginning," said Mukhtar Hüseyin. 

With support from the European Union, IOM and local authorities further distributed 117 showers, 99 toilets with water heaters, 28 disabled toilets, 210 water filtration units, 210 gravity household filters 100 launderettes, 64 incontinence kits and 29 garbage containers. 

Written by Mehmet Boran, IOM Türkiye Senior Communications Associate