by Jake Voss, Water Mission Engineer
On February 6, 2023, devastating earthquakes struck the southeastern region of Turkey and northwestern area of Syria, destroying multiple cities and killing more than 50,000 people. Of the survivors, more than 3 million men, women and children are displaced from their homes, and many have sought refuge in camps for internally displaced people (IDPs). Yet, even in the midst of loss and tragedy of this disaster, there was hope.
Following a disaster, safe water is essential to prevent the spread of waterborne illnesses in IDP camps. So, Water Mission responded within days, sending a trained disaster response team and equipment to get safe water flowing as fast as possible for people in need. Thanks to caring friends who supported this response, to date, we’ve installed 19 safe water systems, providing more than 62,000 people with safe water in IDP camps, kitchens, and clinics.
Water Mission Engineer, Jake Voss was one of the first Water Mission staff members on the ground in Turkey. In this special guest photoblog, he illustrates the tragedy of this event and the resilience of the people he met.
This photo was taken in the southernmost region, Hatay, in the colorful city of Antakya (the Biblical Antioch). With towering mountains looming on the horizon, we drove through the earthquake-ridden city where it seemed not a single building was left habitable. Occasionally, you would come across people walking down the street or rummaging through their destroyed homes for belongings.
One thing that made this disaster response so unique was the paradox of development and destruction. Much of the need faced was in urban areas, with thousands of people displaced from their multi-story apartment buildings and steady jobs and now living in tents and relying on distributions to meet their daily needs. Here you can see the remains of a Mercedes-Benz dealership that once was.
Further north of the Hatay region, I spent a large portion of my time implementing safe water projects in the city of Kahramanmaraş. The people who live here call it Maraş for short. Approaching from the south, we could see the minaret-lined city in the distance, elevated on the mountain, as though a city stronghold from a fictional movie. It was breathtaking. Upon closer examination of the above photo, you can see the various tents that served as temporary homes for displaced families. Fields, parks, and even roundabouts had tents filling them, as a near majority of this city, though still standing, was deemed unlivable and scheduled for demolition.
We spent a lot of time on the road driving from city to city. Many times, we drove this main thoroughfare which was nestled between to the Mediterranean Sea and the peaks lining the mountain range along the Dead Sea fault in southern Turkey. This route was between the Biblical cities of Tarsus and Antioch, and likely traveled many times by the Apostle Paul. As we made this drive, I was able to imagine myself in his shoes, walking this route while in awe of the beautiful sea and mountains.
In Maraş, I spent a lot of time working in displacement camps for Syrian refugees. Here you can see nearly 4,000 gallons (15,000 liters) of safe water storage with tents and mountains in the backdrop. Spending time with these Syrian refugees, my heart could not help but be filled with compassion. Many of them had already left their country and families in the midst of war in the previous years. Living here in Turkey, everyday life as a foreigner was already a challenge. Now, the earthquakes had taken away the little that they had.
However, the most striking part for me were their smiles. The smiles of elderly women and young children—even amid loss.
The most memorable and moving thing about a disaster response is the people. Many Turkish men and women made great sacrifices to serve their fellow Turkish people. Both of these men showed incredible hospitality to us, compassion for others in need, and immense endurance through their own hurt and loss.
Though the earthquakes in Turkey are a tragedy and source of great pain for many, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work alongside many courageous and caring people. As an engineer with Water Mission in the Turkey Disaster response, it is a privilege to represent the Lord Jesus Christ by working with many people to provide safe and Living water to those in need.
Water Mission was born out of the need for safe water following Hurricane Mitch more than 20 years ago. Since then, support from friends like you have enabled us to serve men, women, and children following some of the world’s most devastating natural disasters and humanitarian crises. Will you prayerfully consider helping us bring safe water and trauma healing to those in need?