Life in Ruins: "Mom, why did our house collapse?": How children grapple with the aftermath of the earthquake

Ten-year-old Saadet Agri stares into nothing.

Life in Ruins: "Mom, why did our house collapse?": How children grapple with the aftermath of the earthquake

Ten-year-old Saadet Agri stares into nothing. Instead of lying in her cot in Antakya, the girl lies in one of the 1,500 beds in the city hospital in Adana, Turkey. The ceiling of her children's room fell down on her and her eleven-year-old brother Mahmut on the night of the earthquake. Both children have broken legs.

Saadet has since remained silent. Her father Serkan says she hasn't made a sound since that night. The children do not yet know that he was only able to save Mahmut and Saadet from the rubble, but not the mother of the siblings.

Saadet and Mahmut are just two of many children who lost one or both parents in the rubble. Babies just a few weeks old lie in hospitals and nobody knows who they belong to. The Turkish Ministry of Family Affairs is currently unable to assign 1000 children to anyone, around 790 of them are still being treated.

According to Unicef, 4.6 million of the 13.5 million affected are children in Turkey alone. In Syria there are 2.5 million. "Children and families urgently need additional support," says the UN organization. "More clean water. More heat. More protection. More medicines. More funding."

The 7.7 and 7.6 magnitude quakes caused severe destruction in the Turkish-Syrian border area at the beginning of last week. The death toll has now risen to more than 40,000.

"The children ask me: Mom, why did our house collapse? How should I answer, we don't know ourselves," says mother of three Sevilay Bem. Her two-year-old son clings to her leg. In an open area surrounded by ruins in the city of Kirikhan, they share a stove and two tents no larger than 15 square meters with 20 friends they know.

In a corner of the dusty tent lies a girl who has just had an operation. The falling concrete parts also broke her legs, which are now held together by a rigid frame and screws. To treat the wound, they go to the tent camp a few hundred meters away, says Sevilay.

Since the earthquake, some of the children have woken up screaming at night, says Sevilay. Staying in anything other than a tent is currently unthinkable for the family. The children didn't exist then, but Sevilay had to leave everything behind. She fled to Turkey almost ten years ago to escape the war in Syria. She doesn't yet know where she's headed this time.

Eight-year-old Rabia lives in the tent next door with her father and mother. "In the morning they bring us soup, at noon they bring us soup, in the evening they bring us soup," she says about her new everyday life. "And sometimes Helva too". Instead of sitting here, she would actually rather go to school. Her favorite subject is Turkish.

Children affected by the earthquake showed very different symptoms, a psychiatrist reports to the broadcaster TRT. Some would cry incessantly, others could not sleep, refused to eat and could not be left alone. Still others began hallucinating and hearing voices. Experts urgently advise professional help if children have lost their parents in the disaster. It seems inconceivable that all of the affected children would benefit from this.

Saadet and her brother Mahmut have to be treated in the hospital for a few more days, her father hears from the doctors. Only when their health is more stable does he want to tell them that they will not see their mother again.