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The acute danger of infectious diseases

The Astan family shares a tent with several other people. In total, 13 people live here, including nine children.

The acute danger of infectious diseases
Yasemin Astan, her husband, Hasan and their five children

By Burcu Karakas

Yasemin Astan, her husband, Hasan and their five children just managed to escape their home in Antakya, in southern Turkey’s Hatay province, before it was destroyed in the February 6 earthquake. Now, the Astan family lives in a tent. Two days after the natural disaster struck Turkey and Syria, many such tents were set up for people in need. The Astans and others who have found temporary shelter in Antakya are reporting unhygienic conditions. “They set up a Portaloo on the other side of the street,” Yasemin Astan told DW, gesturing across the road. “But it’s almost impossible to see anything at night, and it is very difficult to walk — how can I leave my children behind and walk all this distance in the dark when I need to use the toilet?”

The Astan family shares a tent with several other people. In total, 13 people live here, including nine children. “This tent just isn’t large enough for 13 people,” Astan said. In addition to the criticism of official efforts to prepare for earthquakes, people across Turkey are calling the government’s response inadequate. Many survivors have had to forgo showers since the quake hit on February 6. But that isn’t their biggest problem: worst of all, residents say, is the lack of proper toilets. And there is refuse everywhere. A representative of the Family and Social Services Ministry in the camp told DW that he called faraway cities such as Nevsehir and Konya to ask for help. “I told them: At least send us a rubbish container so refuse won’t pile up where people walk,” the representative said. “And, of course, there is the acute danger of infectious diseases spreading.”

The representative pointed to a portable building containing a toilet, which he said was at capacity and leaking into the camp. “Everything from this toilet ends up seeping down,” he said. “It is the only toilet in the entire area, even though we asked the authorities for at least 25.” At night, the once-bustling multicultural city is deserted except for soldiers patrolling districts flattened by the earthquake. One aid agency volunteer told DW that “there are those who have been evacuated from the city, and there are those who are still in Hatay — they are either waiting for burials, or have nowhere to go.”

Though some people are still being found alive under the rubble after all this time, officials have now switched their focus to clearing the debris. With the cleanup operation underway, streets are engulfed in dust and dirt. People should be donning masks, though hardly anyone here in the streets is seen wearing one. A volunteer from Sakarya province said these unhygienic conditions make it almost impossible for anyone to recuperate.

The Turkish Medical Association has set up a container in the nearby town of Defne to treat survivors and offer clothing and medicine. “I have been here for six days,” said a doctor who asked that their name not be used. “We wash ourselves using wet wipes because there is no possibility to shower.”

Another doctor said sewage was directed straight into the Asi River, posing a public health risk. The doctor said this must be addressed immediately. “There are toilets, but they are not clean and are therefore a potential source of infection,” the doctor said. “Slowly, we will see what we all have been fearing: infections, diarrheal diseases and fever breaking out,” he added. “Water in the area needs to be treated soon.”

The doctor said more than 100 people of the at least 250 he had treated so far had contracted infectious diseases. “We observed that gynaecological diseases are on the rise: women who have vaginal infections, itching sensations, fungal infections,” the doctor said. “The reason is that nobody here has access to showers.”

This article was provided by Deutsche Welle

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