Stories from iMMAP deployees: Nour, IM specialist deployed with UNDAC following the Türkiye-Syria earthquakes

Deployed for a month in Gaziantep with UNDAC, Nour Khalil details the intricate challenges faced by the response teams in the field and chronicles the gigantic scale of the Türkiye-Syria earthquakes.

Nour Khalil, captured by Cansu Celik

Following the two devastating and historic earthquakes that shook the southern regions of Türkiye and northern Syria on February 6, 2023, iMMAP deployed IMO specialist Nour Khalil to UNDAC’s team in Gaziantep, Türkiye. The sheer amplitude of the disaster is unmatched in recent Turkish history: more than 45,000 people have been killed (AFAD, March 1), while close to 3 million people have been displaced (IOM, March 6) and 214,000 buildings have collapsed or have been heavily damaged according to figures communicated on March 3 by the Turkish government.  

Also responsible for day-to-day M&E and Reporting for the iMMAP Global Surge team, Nour supported the relief efforts in designing time-sensitive assessments, contributing to complex data collection tasks and sharing her expertise on data analysis. Back from her one-month deployment (February 15-March 15), Nour describes in this interview the intricate challenges faced by the response teams in the field and chronicles the gigantic scale of the disaster.  

Can you describe how you learned about your imminent deployment and what were your initial thoughts?

After the earthquake hit Türkiye, iMMAP was supporting data analysis efforts through the DEEP Surge Analysis Cell and was getting prepared for eventual deployments to support the UN agencies with information management capacities and tasks. Upon learning about my confirmed deployment with UNDAC, my initial thoughts were excitement to be able to make a meaningful contribution and to help those affected. 

Following your arrival, how were the living conditions in Gaziantep?

The first two weeks of my deployment, everything was closed down in the city. There were only a few safe hotels opened that we could stay at. In the meantime, the Turkish government was checking the buildings one by one to see if they were structurally fit or not, so people were slowly coming back to the city. There were also multiple aftershocks in the days following my arrival.  

What was your role during the deployment?

My role was to provide support with the information management tasks and requirements as part of the Information Management unit with the UNDAC team. This included handling the Relief Web page dedicated to Türkiye and the earthquake’s aftermath. In addition, I was also part of the implementing team of the Multi-sector Initial Rapid Assessment (MIRA). I provided my expertise in preparing the survey, collecting information, and analyzing the data. Finally, I contributed to the Observation Form, that is used to assess the level of damage and the number of people in need in each of the areas concerned. More generally, I collaborated with my colleagues and supervisors to ensure our work was aligned with the objectives of the deployment and that we were able to coordinate and support relief efforts effectively.   

After the data collection phase, what was surprising to you – or singular to this crisis – when you were looking at the numbers and charts?

What was surprising is that we did not know where a lot of people went after the earthquake. If I can use this word, we "lost" people in a way. For example, the city of Hataywhich was particularly hit – quickly became a ghost town after the earthquake. And we did not know where its inhabitants fled to. We knew that the people who had the financial means to do so traveled far away from the affected areas. And for those who did not have the money to settle elsewhere, we knew they were living in tents nearby. But the number of tents did not account for the number of affected estimations. Then, we discovered during a key informant interview that small villages or districts unscathed by the earthquake (because of the way they are built or the geography) had a 100% or 200% increase in population. Those villages or districts were not aimed to receive help because they were not directly impacted by the earthquake. Still, a lot of displaced people arrived in those localities. If they did not need rebuilding, they needed food, shelter and so on. This finding was then really significant in terms of advocacy for the subsequent planning phase.  

What kind of challenges did you and the IM teams have to face during this mission?

One singular aspect of this crisis was the sheer scale of it. The impact of the earthquake was genuinely severe in all of the southern regions of Türkiye – and in the north of Syria. The number of villages, cities, districts and provinces affected in Türkiye was colossal. To respond to the dimension of the crisis, UNDAC established 4 sub-OSOCCs (On-Site Operations Coordination Centres) in the area in order to be closer to the affected population and the NGOs that we were supporting. Therefore, our biggest challenge was really to be able to cover the immense area impacted by the earthquake. Another challenge – which you can find in any crisis – was to ensure that the data was accurate, organized, and easily accessible to the team members who needed it. We addressed this challenge by implementing strong information management systems and using technology to facilitate data collection and analysis. 

As it is still early to assess the global results of the mission, can you gauge the impact of your deployment?

During the deployment, I believe that I had a significant impact on the overall mission by providing critical support with information management tasks and contributing to the success of the MIRA. Specifically, my expertise in designing assessments and collecting and analyzing data helped to ensure that the information we were gathering was accurate, timely, and actionable. This information was then used to make informed decisions about how to allocate resources and provide assistance to those in need. 

What will you retain from this deployment?

The amount of destruction, the scale of the camps, or the number of people affected – no one can even comprehend it. Full universities compounds filled with camps, people waiting in line to eat… And yet, people managed to come together – be it by volunteering, working, cooking food, distributing or even helping with the assessments. This is really remarkable how they did not wait for anyone before starting to offer their support and to help those who needed it. 

For more information on the Türkiye-Syria earthquakes, please visit our latest flash updates