Disabled earthquake victims complain of limited access to aid

Residents and rescue personnel search for victims and survivors through the rubble of collapsed buildings in Adiyaman, in the night of February 8, 2023, two days after a 7,8-magnitude earthquake struck southeast Turkey. - The death toll from a huge earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria climbed to more than 17,100 on on February 9, as hopes faded of finding survivors stuck under rubble in freezing weather. (Photo by ILYAS AKENGIN / AFP)

Disabled people living in tent cities after their homes were destroyed by earthquakes in southeastern Turkey on February 6 have said it is difficult for them to access aid, the Evrensel daily reported.

Several tent cities were set up in the region; however, they are located far from aid distribution centers and in most cases are also at a distance from toilets. “I can’t walk,” said one man who wanted to remain anonymous. “Both my legs are very weak, and I can’t go to collect the aid that’s delivered daily. My wife has to go and get it for us. Even going to the toilet is a big problem.”

The man, who is currently staying in a tent in Kahramanmaraş province, added that he feared being prosecuted if he openly criticized government policies. “What if they take us [into custody],” he asked journalists.

The man explained that they had already been struggling financially before the earthquakes hit and said conditions had worsened considerably. “Government benefits for disabled people are half the minimum wage. How am I supposed to live with that?” he said, adding that he and his wife had been surviving on instant soup they cooked in a small container in their tent.

While the state run Anadolu news agency (AA) painted a different picture, saying disabled earthquake victims were taken care of by the Ministry of Family and Social Affairs, many disabled people said they spent days sleeping in the streets or in their cars waiting for help.

Speaking to the Artı Gerçek news website, Mehtap Temizel said her family lived in their car for days after the earthquakes. Temizel, who walks with a cane and whose husband uses a wheelchair, said they felt completely “abandoned by the authorities.”

“There were times we had to wait for hours in line for food,” she said. “We were exposed to freezing cold and got sick. However, nobody cared.”

Turkey’s most powerful earthquake in almost 100 years, which struck near the city of Gaziantep in the early hours of February 6, has so far claimed the lives of more than 41,000 people in Turkey in addition to injuring in excess of 100,000. Close to 220,000 disaster victims have been evacuated from the region to date, according to the latest official figures.

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake was followed by dozens of aftershocks, including a 7.5-magnitude temblor that jolted the region in the middle of search and rescue efforts the same day.

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