Vicar of Anatolia fears silence, calls for continued solidarity in the wake of the tragic quake
by Dario Salvi

After coordinating relief from Italy, Bishop Bizzeti left today for Turkey’s quake-affected areas. He fears the tragedy might be soon forgotten. Meanwhile, the Church and Caritas are hard at work in providing aid. The quake’s psychological impact far too “often gets overlooked.”


Milan (AsiaNews) – Milano (AsiaNews) – As the initial wave of international media attention and concern by world public opinion wanes, there is fear that the tragedy that hit Turkey and Syria will be soon forgotten. For this reason, “We must not let silence fall on the tragedy of the earthquake,” said Bishop Paolo Bizzeti, Vicar Apostolic of Anatolia, speaking to AsiaNews.

After coordinating the first relief operations from Italy in the past two weeks, the prelate is on his way to Istanbul. “As history teaches us, there is the risk that after the first wave of emotions, attention and interest will face,” he said.

“We are already on page six of the news with focus only on exceptional aspects, like a recent rescue after so many days. Of course, they are miracles, but we must look at the fate of the rest of population, of survivors. This ought to be the priority; our attention should be on this.”

Two weeks after the earthquake of 6 February, rescuers in Turkey have now stopped searching for survivors and only a few teams remain active in the worst hit provinces of Kahramanmaras and Hatay.

The death toll now tops 46,000 deaths, almost 41,000 in Turkey alone, while the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimating that it might go as high as 50,000.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the affected areas today announcing an aid package of US$ 100 million, a drop in the bucket.

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay reported that at least 105,000 buildings collapsed or were damaged by the main earthquake measuring 7.8 and more than 6,000 aftershocks, including a 6.6 over the weekend.

The last miraculous rescue saw a couple extracted from a collapsed building in Antakya on Saturday, almost 300 hours after the tragic night that struck the country.

Now everyone is thinking about rebuilding, but geopolitical factors will come into play with opposing interests at odds with each other, especially with respect to Syria and President Bashar al-Assad.

Meanwhile, the work of the Church and Caritas in Turkey continues. Although there is still no water to wash, power has been restored to some areas; but, entire villages are still isolated and the risk of a cholera epidemic is growing.

The Apostolic Vicariate of Anatolia is involved in Iskenderun (Alexandretta) with Fr Antuan Ilgit SJ, together with Caritas Anatolia director John Farhad Sadredin, helping people in the local diocese; while in Istanbul, plans are being prepared for reconstruction projects with goals set for the coming months. At the same time, the fundraising campaign continues.

"We must see how to restore basic services like water for drinking and washing, and provide regular meals,” Bishop Bizzeti said. “We are still in full emergency,” he added.

“The disaster is of such magnitude that despite everyone’s goodwill, from the government to rescuers and volunteers, it will take weeks for watermains to be back working.”

“We must then think about beds and accommodations for the displaced, because many are still sleeping in their cars since houses are unusable or they fear further collapses since the ground continues to shake.”

As for water, ”we getting some from the sea and trying to desalinate it. We do everything we can, but the needs are huge".

Then there is a last, psychological aspect that "often gets overlooked" since everything now is focused on satisfying material needs.

“Psychological distress is deep and widespread in the population" and fear "remains. There are too many questions about the tragedy that are unanswered. People also come to question their faith and everyone feels challenged.”

Yet, there is also the other side of the coin, i.e. “great solidarity, mutual help without looking at ethnicity or religious belief, commendable acts of generosity, which is a good reason to hope.”

(photo by Elisa Gestri)