On February 6, 2023, southeastern Turkey and northern Syria were hit by a devastating 7.7 magnitude earthquake. The earthquake has shattered the lives of people living in Turkey and Syria, killing thousands and forcing many more to be uprooted. There have been calls from people all over the world for the United States government and other wealthier countries to provide aid and resources to limit the devastation that has ensued. The disaster has forced many within the country and within Santa Barbara to ask themselves a question, “What can we do to help those in need in Turkey and Syria?”
Since the initial quake, the region has been rocked by more than 9,000 aftershocks. In Turkey, 44,218 people have been killed according to the country’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), and the death toll has reached 5,914 in Syria. According to Al Jazeera, nearly 530,000 people have been evacuated from the disaster area, and the Turkish government has said that 173,000 buildings have either collapsed or been damaged. More than 1.9 million people have been forced to take refuge in temporary shelters, hotels, tents, container homes, and other government sponsored accommodations. According to the United Nations, 2.2 million people have fled from the most devastated areas in Turkey, fleeing to cities further north. The impacts have been even more severe in Syria, where many people were already living in unstable conditions due to years of civil war. About 20 million people in Turkey have been affected by the earthquake, while the United Nations estimates that about 8 million people have been impacted in Syria. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has pledged to rebuild homes within a year, but many experts have said that rebuilding cannot take place until all aftershocks have stopped. As the initial earthquake’s lasting impacts continue to wreak havoc on those in Turkey and Syria, many individuals and organizations around the world have been called to action in order to provide aid to those affected.
Soon after the initial earthquake on February 6, many organizations moved swiftly to provide aid in whatever ways they could to damaged areas in Turkey and Syria. One of these organizations was Medair, an international non-governmental humanitarian organization that specializes in emergency relief and recovery. Medair’s headquarters are based in Switzerland, but the organization is working in 13 different countries globally bringing relief to communities during natural or man-made crises. I spoke with Denise Kurmann, a Senior Key Relationship Officer for Medair. Medair got to work immediately after the initial earthquake in Turkey. “Our Global Emergency Response Team (G-ERT) was mobilized to Turkey within 24 hours of the earthquake […] The situation in [an] emergency […] changes quickly and our teams need to be agile and effective to save lives. In Syria, where we have been working since 2015 due to the civil conflict, we were able to immediately begin helping in Aleppo,” Kurmann stated. In Turkey, Medair is working with five partner organizations who are experienced in delivering humanitarian support to Southern Turkey. With these partners, Medair is in the process of delivering 1,949 blankets to Hatay province, 50 stoves and heaters to Kahramanmaraş province, and 3,000 blankets and 200 tarps in Gaziantep province. “In the first three months of our response in Turkey, we hope to continue these activities, as well as cash and voucher assistance and mental health support,” Kurmann said. When asked about the situation following the earthquakes in Syria, Kurmann described it as, “…a crisis within a crisis within a crisis. The country is already experiencing economic collapse, a cholera outbreak, and limited infrastructure and electricity. The earthquakes have been devastating for the whole country.” Medair has been distributing water, female hygiene kits, stoves, blankets, and winter clothes to earthquake affected families. Being on the ground and witnessing firsthand what has been the toll on the Turkish and Syrian populations, Medair had much knowledge about the damage to human lives that has occurred in the new post-earthquake reality.
Speaking on the greatest impacts to those living in Turkey and Syria, Kurmann said, “All areas of life have been affected by these deadly earthquakes – how people earn their livelihood, where children go to school, where women deliver babies, how people with chronic health conditions access life-saving medicines. Everyone affected by these earthquakes is extremely vulnerable – without shelter in freezing temperatures, limited access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities […] In Syria, communities have been living in a humanitarian crisis for more than a decade; in many cases, whatever they have been able to rebuild has now been wiped out […] People our team met were visibly in a state of shock and expressed shock, fear, hopelessness, anxiety, and grief.” When asked what people in their own communities can do to help those struggling in Turkey and Syria, Kurmann replied that the best way to help is by organizing fundraisers, raising awareness, and donating to trustworthy organizations.
At Santa Barbara High School, the Youth 4 Direct Relief club is donating to those in need in Turkey and Syria. Youth 4 Direct Relief is made up of a group of junior high and high school students who work to support the larger Santa Barbara based organization, Direct Relief. Recently, club presidents Oscar Seltzer and Danielle Chaplin have been organizing the annual flower drive, “Flowers for Relief.” The annual flower drive raises money for specific world issues each year. Donors can buy flowers from Youth 4 Direct Relief and designate them to be delivered to people in Santa Barbara, where local teens will then deliver the flowers. All money raised in the flower drives goes directly to the issue that they are fundraising for. The money raised in this year’s fundraiser will go towards Turkey and Syria in order to provide relief for those impacted by the earthquakes. When asked what led to the decision to dedicate this year’s flower drive to Turkey and Syria, Chaplin said, “Thousands and thousands of people died, and we have the ability to do something […] and so we decided to put it towards (Turkey and Syria). Whatever is […] hurting people currently […] we provide relief directly.” The fundraising goal for the flower drive is $10,000. So far, Youth 4 Direct Relief has raised about $9,200. Seltzer and Chaplin were adamant that the biggest thing SBHS students can do to help those impacted in Turkey and Syria is to raise awareness. “A big thing right now is a lot of our peers don’t exactly know what’s going on in the world […] so we’re really just trying to teach the next generation about pressing issues. We can’t fix the world if we don’t know about what problems there are, so we’re really just trying to come together as a community to help […] fix those issues together,” Seltzer said.
The earthquakes in Turkey and Syria have had devastating impacts to its population. Thousands of lives have been lost, and even more have been forced to relocate after losing their home. While organizations like Medair and Youth 4 Direct Relief are providing necessary assistance in the long journey to rebuilding, lives will never be the same for those in Turkey and Syria.
Buildings destroyed in Aleppo, Syria [Image credit: Lisanne van de Schors, Medair]