Thousands still displaced in Turkey


BOLU, TURKEY (March 7, 2000) -- Ayse and Nordan are two among Turkey's 500,000 residents that are still homeless after an August earthquake claimed 17,000 lives and a second November quake claimed 800 more.

Both nursing students, they sit on plastic lawn chairs inside their shared tent, studying bone anatomy at a small table crowded with books. Their 10-by-20-foot tent -- one of thousands provided by faith-based response groups -- is about seven feet high. The windowless, dark green plastic hut is lined on the inside with an inch layer of insulation. The tents are warmed with portable heaters and an insulated front flap serves as a door.

Ayse and Nordan have clamped lights to the interior ribs of the tent. They're cramped but warm - fortunate given that Turkey is still reeling from its harshest winter in a decade.

Ayse and Nordan said they were behind in their lessons but hopeful for the future. "We are looking forward, not backwards," said Ayse. The women said they attend classes in buildings at the Izzet Baysal University School of Nursing in Bolu.

There are a thousand tents stretching all around them. The 4,500 people that dwell in the tents have to wait in line for everything from showers to soup, telephone calls to transportation.

In the northwestern province of Bolu alone, more than 50,000 residents are still displaced. Massive tent cities stretch from Istanbul to Bolu. The Turkish government continues to provide prefabricated houses, into which people move daily.

Piles of rubble are still standing, and thousands of badly damaged homes and businesses stand vacant. Demolition of the buildings could take years, government officials report.

In the midst of this destruction, the faith community is bringing hope and providing for needs. Working with the Turkish government to assist homeless survivors, faith-based response groups have been providing tents and relief supplies.

The massive tent cities number from a few hundred to several thousand people in population.

Some 400 university students live in 100 tents in Bolu, carrying on their lives and studies in winterized tents. Snow has continued to pile up through the winter.

Turkey Action Churches Together (TACT), a coalition of churches working cooperatively on relief efforts with Church World Service, provided the students' tents.

"The tents are the most durable ones in Bolu," said Amaniel Bagdas, coordinator of TACT and a member of the Union Church, an international community of Christians in Istanbul. "The tents are made of a very heavy plastic able to withstand the heavy snows," like the snow Bolu has received all winter. Bagdas said, "the plastic is extremely difficult to cut and will not burn when exposed to fire. It only melts in intense heat."

The students' tents stand out against row upon row of white tents from other relief organizations.

The tent city in the middle of Bolu is about two blocks wide and five blocks long. According to one of the police officers on duty, the Turkish government operates the camp and police from other cities give four days of service at a time to patrol the camp around the clock.

Residents seemed to be going about life as normally as possible despite the cold wet snow.

At the ends of each block of tents there are restrooms and showers. In the middle of the complex are a couple of large white storage tents measuring approximately 40-by-80 feet and 15 feet high. Relief supplies are stored and distributed from these tents.

The camp is clean and orderly -- even with a foot of snow on the ground -- and the streets are muddy but passable. Bundled children and youths roam the streets, talking and playing.

The Governor of Bolu, Nosret Miroglu, said 50,000 residents are homeless in Bolu, with another 40,000 affected directly by the earthquakes. Of the homeless, 20,000 live in tents.

Children are all back in school across the province in buildings as well as tents. Miroglu said tents and food are still the greatest physical needs in Bolu.

He said 2,000 prefabricated housing units have been moved into position and will soon be occupied, completing 50 percent of a goal of 4,000 houses. The houses measure 10-by-30 feet and are self-contained with their own kitchen and bath.

Miroglu added that "the next need of quake survivors is social activities" as well as TVs, furniture, dishes, and other items needed for homemaking. He said he was pleased that the province receives relief supplies from church groups.

Posted March 7, 2000

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