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Relief, recovery and prioritising


By Dr Ayse Yildiz, Lecturer in Risk

Earthquake disaster in Turkey: relief, recovery and prioritising vulnerable groups

The story of Turkey’s recent earthquake is one of heart-wrenching devastation and collective determination to help. The swift response of the UK to support the relief efforts set an example for other governments to follow. The ongoing effort to understand the complexities of relief and recovery, especially with respect to vulnerable groups of people, is presently an important avenue of research in risk and disaster science.

Situated on active fault lines, Turkey has always been vulnerable to earthquakes. Two massive earthquakes on 6 February 2023, 7.8 and 7.6 magnitude, released a wave of destruction across southern and central Turkey, and northwest Syria. In the wake of widespread devastation, the Turkish government issued a Level 4 alarm requesting international assistance on the same day to deal with the aftermath of the disaster. Aftershocks and a series of strong tremors continued to rock the region. Just a week later, on 20 February, the region was hit by yet another earthquake with a magnitude of 6.4.

The earthquake caused extensive damage and left thousands of people in urgent need of help, as well as countless heart-breaking stories. More than 139,000 buildings either collapsed or were heavily damaged, leading to a death toll of over 42,000 and nearly 100,000 people injured. Over 430,000 residents in the impacted areas have been relocated to neighbouring provinces.

Fighting to save lives and building hope

In the aftermath of these earthquakes, just like after every disaster, aid and relief efforts played a crucial role in saving lives and alleviating suffering, as well as helping impacted communities in recovering and rebuilding. From search and rescue operations to providing food, water, shelter and medical care, and physiological first aid, every effort is vital in the fight to save lives and end suffering. In addition to meeting the immediate needs of the affected community, these initiatives can offer people hope by making them feel they are not alone and forgotten.

Without rapid and effective humanitarian assistance, disaster victims may feel helpless and overwhelmed. This can also have negative effects on their mental health as well as community cohesion and the stability of their social and economic systems. Delivering timely and efficient aid can help communities to recover and rebuild from the effects of disasters while promoting resilience and sustainable development.

The UK steps up

The UK responded immediately to provide humanitarian aid and support to Turkey in the aftermath of the disaster, mobilizing a team of 77 search and rescue experts who worked day and night to help those affected by the earthquakes. The UK support includes a team of emergency medical personnel that has set up a field hospital to provide additional life support, medical supplies, and thousands of tents and blankets to help people stay warm and protected from the freezing cold of an already harsh winter.

The UK is also leading NATO’s response to the earthquakes and has announced a further package of aid to boost relief operations and address the pressing humanitarian needs. The UK government’s quick response to the devastating situation is evidence of its growing ties with Turkey and its dedication to supporting its ally in times of dire need of help. However, there remain important lessons to be learned from the disaster relief and recovery phase in general.

A role for research

When prioritising aid and relief efforts, it is crucial to consider the needs of different groups of vulnerable people. These groups include low-income individuals, people with disabilities, elderly people and, arguably, the group requiring the most special attention, children. Researchers at the University of Leicester are shedding light on this critical topic, with previous work revealing that an alarmingly high percentage of Turkish children were not aware of the safety earthquake actions despite living in high-risk areas (Yildiz et al., 2020).

Furthermore, there is limited research on the immediate impacts of disasters on children, despite the great potential for such research to improve the relief and recovery phase. As highlighted in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, we should understand and learn more about children’s needs and give them a platform to speak. Further research will play an important role in children’s needs in the aftermath of natural disasters.

The assistance provided by the UK during this difficult time serves as a reminder that despite political differences and borders, we can come together to support those in need. Universities can also have an important role in helping and supporting in the aftermath of an earthquake by providing research collaboration, academic support, promoting cultural exchange, fundraising and generating awareness.


Yildiz, A., Teeuw, R., Dickinson, J., & Roberts, J. (2020). Children’s earthquake preparedness and risk perception: A comparative study of two cities in Turkey, using a modified PRISM approach. International journal of disaster risk reduction49, 101666. doi:10.1016/j.ijdrr.2020.101666

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