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Felicity Cross

Technical Engineer - GIS


MapAction volunteers undertake comprehensive training to ensure that they are equipped with the skills and knowledge to work effectively in challenging and hostile environments. In the past 20 years MapAction has deployed to over 80 countries in response to more than 135 emergencies. This was my 4th deployment, this time to Türkiye, following the recent earthquakes. 

In the early hours of the 6th February 2023, a 7.7 magnitude earthquake struck southern and central Türkiye and northern and western Syria. A second earthquake of 7.5 magnitude followed 9 hours later causing further destruction and hampering relief efforts. As a result, many buildings collapsed amidst already challenging living situations and very harsh weather conditions. It is now known that over 50,000 people lost their lives and over 3 million people have been displaced.

I woke early that morning to an “Alert Check” message on my phone. This signifies an emergency situation has occurred and that MapAction are looking for a team to respond and deploy. On this occasion, work and family commitments meant I couldn’t leave immediately but thankfully three other team members cleared their diaries and took the difficult journey to Gaziantep, less than 20km from the epicentre of the first earthquake.

MapAction only deploy to countries where there has been a formal government request for assistance, on this occasion this came through the UN Disaster and Assessment Coordination (UNDAC) who were requested to assist by the Turkish Government. Our initial remit was to provide mapping support through the search and rescue phase. This is exactly what the team did, arriving in the midst of a snow storm with all the kit they would need to assist.

The team mapped where searches where occurring, where searches were needed and also completed. They provided reference maps, weather maps and maps detailing new satellite imagery. Providing these maps allowed fast and informed decisions to be made about where search teams should prioritise their efforts; speed was of the essence.

As the days and weeks passed, the MapAction team rotated new individuals in and out of Türkiye and the search and rescue phase came to an end. The enormous task of helping survivors was now very much the focus. People had lost everything and were surviving in freezing temperatures in constant fear caused by thousands of aftershocks. MapAction were requested to stay in Türkiye and consequently I flew out to Gaziantep on the 22nd February. The focus of our mapping at this point was now on the current situation and needs of the people affected by the earthquakes. This included mapping where aid was being distributed and perhaps more importantly identifying the gaps. This would allow the NGOs, UN and Government to make informed decisions about their priorities.

I stayed in Türkiye for two weeks sleeping in a shared hotel room working long hours in the basement of a hotel, alongside the UN and NGOs. Being in country meant that I could talk to the people on the ground, hear the situational information and provide whatever assistance was needed most. I worked with and got to know a phenomenal team from the UN that understood the importance of working together to realise the best outcomes for the people whose lives had been turned upside down.

My input into the whole humanitarian response was tiny, I didn’t dig anyone out of rubble or perform lifesaving first aid. I, alongside my MapAction colleagues, made some maps. It may not sound significant, but these maps are the ones that decision makers use to make life saving decisions. Where are the priorities? Where does aid go? What do we do next?

MapAction’s team in Türkiye & Syria left on March 17th with a handover of maps, data and tools to the various UN Information Management colleagues, and any further support being likely to be provided remotely.

The road to recovery for Türkiye and Syria will continue for a long time. Despite this, I left with a real sense of hope – working alongside the UN and other humanitarian organizations was a reminder that when we come together as a global community, we have the power to make a real difference in the lives of those affected by natural disasters. It was an honour to be a part of this effort, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have contributed to the relief effort in Türkiye.