Turkish police used tear gas to quell protests held by quake-victims in Turkey’s southern province of Hatay over health concerns posed by debris dumped from collapsed buildings in their neighbourhoods, with 20 people reportedly detained on Tuesday.
Residents in the quake-hit district of Samandağ in Hatay have taken daily action this week to prevent debris from being dumped close to their tent cities and homes.
Police were deployed to disperse them and used tear gas to quell the demonstrations however even bigger crowds gathered for vigils on Wednesday morning.
The dumping of debris is a contentious issue for Samandağ residents concerned about the hazardous impact it could have on the environment and public health.
Debris is dumped close to fields in an area reliant on agriculture (olives, citrus fruits, and other crops). Residents fear that the soil may get contaminated, affecting the crop quality.
Furthermore they say that dust and debris from the dumping site poses a serious risk to health.
Some residents complained that body parts from earthquake victims were found among the debris, adding to concerns about potential health risks.
A local environmental watchdog, the Hatay Ecological Platform, said the dumping of debris near residential areas must stop and criticised the government for not taking adequate measures to address the situation or find an alternative location to dump the rubble. The group also accused local authorities of suppressing the protests and of preventing actions that raise awareness about the potential health hazards.
Meanwhile, seasonal rising temperatures in the earthquake region are expected to increase the spread of diarrhoeal disease, according to the President of the Public Health Specialists Association (HASUDER) Professor Dr Bülent Kılıç. Two months after the earthquake, major health problems remain in the region, and there is a significant service gap in family health centres. Scabies epidemic is reported in all tent cities, and other diseases are expected to emerge with rising temperatures.
In rural areas, there are still problems regarding lack of clean water, and serious outbreaks could occur if water is not stored or chlorinated, warned Kılıç. The risk of contamination is high from source to the delivery location.
Women’s health services, including sexual and reproductive health services, also see a significant gap in regional provision. Unplanned pregnancies tend to increase after disasters and women find themselves under particular pressure in such circumstances due to the existing patriarchal social structures.
Municipalities are responsible for fixing the sewage system and regularly emptying septic pits, said Kılıç, pointing to the importance of specialist monitoring of drinking water to prevent disease in tent and container cities.