19 Mar 2012
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Canan Akyil sweeping outside of her UNHCR tent funded by CERF in Van, Turkey, Credit: UN CERF

Central Emergency Response Fund helps provide shelter to about 20,000 people affected by the 2011 earthquake in south-east Turkey.

It is a quiet afternoon in Selimbey, one of the many deserted districts in the outskirts of Van in south-east Turkey, which is still recovering from a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that shook the city in October 2011.

Parts of Van are still deserted. But amid the ruins, some families do not have the resources to leave. Canan Akyil’s family is one of them. Now in her fifties, Mrs. Akyil has spent her whole life in Van and does not plan to go anywhere—even if that means living in a tent provided by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in the middle of what used to be her garden. 

Tents have appeared in gardens like Mrs. Akyil’s all over the city. Some of them are funded by the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).

Today, Mrs. Akyil is happy, if slightly tired. She has finished cleaning and is watching her youngest son, Yusuf, play football in the garden. Yusuf must stay home because his school, like many others, has not reopened since it was badly damaged by the earthquake. 

“He’s a hard-working boy, not spoiled,” Mrs. Akyil says. “But there’s no homework to do. I let him play ball outside with his friends all day long.”

Most of the houses in this district are no better off than the schools. A second earthquake of magnitude 5.6 hit this area two weeks after the first, further damaging buildings that were still standing. 

“In the first earthquake some houses were damaged in the neighbourhood, but it wasn’t so bad. But the second was devastating,” Mrs. Akyil remembers. “It was a very big shock. My daughter-in-law and my baby grandson were sleeping in a room and the door was locked. We had to leave the house without taking them. Then my son went into the house, broke the door and took them out. I still tremble in fear when I remember that day.”

They slept in their neighbour’s tent for two days, but the baby’s health deteriorated due to the cold weather. Mrs. Akyil’s husband has osteoporosis and suffers badly in cold weather. They applied for a better tent and received one from UNHCR, through the Turkish Red Crescent. Mrs. Akyil furnished the tent with two couches and a television, salvaged from her house.

“This tent is easy to heat and easy to keep clean,” she says. “There’s even a small part in the back which I use to store kitchen utensils.” Mrs. Akyil vacuums every morning and her tent is neat and tidy. All that the tent lacks, she says, is hot running water. 

“There may have been an earthquake, but there’s no reason why we can’t live in a tidy fashion, even in a tent,” says Mrs. Akyil. 

CERF responds to earthquake victims

CERF is a humanitarian fund established by the UN to provide timely and reliable humanitarian assistance to those affected by natural disasters and armed conflict. In 2011, CERF provided more than US$3.4 million in funding to UN agencies to support Government earthquake relief in Turkey.

The UNHCR Representative in Turkey, Carol Batchelor, talked about the importance of CERF funding to relief efforts after the Van earthquake of October 2011. She said: “The support of CERF helped UNHCR provide family tents, blankets and sleeping mats for distribution to the most vulnerable families by the the Turkish Red Crescent and Government authorities. With this CERF-supported donation, an estimated 20,000 people affected by the earthquake have been provided [with] shelter and non-food items during the cold winter months.”

Reporting by Mustafa Azizoglu/ UN CERF