Former Limerick Post journalist helping at the heart of earthquake zone

Kieran McConville in the Syrian earthquake zone.

ONCE upon a time, Kieran McConville from Limerick’s North Circular Road was writing about the foibles of local politicians for the Limerick Post.

These days, he is sending dispatches from the earthquake zone in Turkey for Irish aid agency Concern.

He describes the “unimaginable” extent of the displacement of so many people as a result of the natural disaster.

“Some of these people were already displaced by conflict. Now there are thousands of people in tents because their homes have either been completely destroyed or damaged beyond repair.

“Even many of the aid workers, who were here on the ground when the earthquakes happened, are sleeping in tents or in their cars for fear of further quakes or building collapse. There are so many layers of trauma,” he told the Limerick Post.

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The urgency right now, Kieran says, is to get people into some sort of acceptable, temporary accommodation, which effectively means “under plastic”.

“Once that’s done, the agencies are trying to to put things like sanitation in place,” said Kieran.

“I was in a tent village where there were 250 tents with about 15 people to each tent and just one toilet. Those kind of conditions can result in massive health problems. We’re bringing in tankers of clean water and putting up toilet facilities as fast as possible.

“There are also issues like putting down gravel in the tent cities so the ground doesn’t get churned into mud and flood. Then there are personal sanitation concerns – providing nappies, women’s sanitary products, organising refuse collections – all these things are very important. You’re talking about an area the size of Ireland.”

Kieran was working out of Malatya in Turkey when an aftershock of 5.6 magnitude hit the region on February 26.

Concern have around 120 staff in that area and, Kieran says, it has been a fearful experience.

“When the ground that you think of as stable moves under you and buildings start falling , it’s terrifying.

“But you have to just focus on what you’re doing and get on with the job, and that is what our staff there are doing. They are just amazing. They’re working day and night to get help to people.”

The combined official death toll in Turkey and Syria now exceeds 50,000 according to international news agency Reuters.

Of those who escaped death and injury in the quakes,  Kieran says, “everybody is affected. Everybody has lost somebody.”

He described meeting one woman in Alepo who is living in a tent with her sister and three children, opposite the collapsed pile of concrete that was her home.

“One of her children was in that building and died during the earthquake,” he said.

The Limerick man says the combined efforts of the authorities on the ground and international aid agencies are needed to try to bring relief to people in the short term and long term plans will have to be made.

“The agencies avoid duplication. At Concern, we try to look after the very vulnerable, people who might fall through the cracks and make sure they don’t get left behind.”

Kieran says that while “it sounds crass, the best way for people to help, if they want to do that, is to donate money rather than goods or services.  We can use money to buy goods and services close to the disaster site and get that relief there faster,” he said.

Donations can be made here