As of February 19, 2023, the Turkey-Syria earthquakes have led to the deaths of at least 46,400 people in Syria and Turkey. The 7.8 magnitude earthquake, followed by a 7.6 magnitude earthquake, struck Southeastern Turkey near the border of Syria on February 6, 2023, and has devastated the region as many remain missing and the death toll continues to climb. As the World Health Organization (WHO) has classified the earthquakes as the “worst natural disaster” to affect its European region in 100 years, humanitarian aid from the U.K. government and U.K. non-governmental organizations is essential in mitigating the effects of the Turkey-Syria earthquakes and saving as many lives as possible.
Response from the UK Government
One day after the earthquakes struck Turkey and Syria, 77 members of the U.K. International Search and Rescue team, an Emergency Medical Team, four search dogs and rescue equipment arrived in Gaziantep, Turkey, on behalf of the U.K. government. The search and rescue specialists employed “state-of-the-art” tools, such as seismic listening devices and concrete cutting equipment, to make their way into buildings that the earthquakes destroyed and locate survivors while the emergency medics assessed the situation on the ground.
Volunteers from the White Helmets, a humanitarian organization funded by the U.K. government, also began a search and rescue campaign in Northwestern Syria. The U.K.’s response to the Turkey-Syria earthquake has included an additional £3.8 million ($4.6 million) in funding for rescue operations in light of the disaster, on top of the £2.25 million ($2.7 million) allocated to the White Helmets in the financial year 2022-2023. More than 2,500 volunteers from the group have become involved in the disaster response across 40 affected communities in Syria.
Further Aid Efforts
The U.K. government provided an initial £8 million ($9.7 million) for humanitarian assistance to Turkey and Syria. The U.K. sent essential emergency relief such as tents and blankets for displaced families struggling amid frigid temperatures and deployed a world-class medical team supported with medical equipment to address urgent medical needs. In a press release, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly stated that the U.K.’s priority is to “ensure life-saving assistance is given to those most in need, coordinated with the Turkish government, U.N. and international partners.” The equipment the U.K. deployed will fulfill the needs of up to 15,000 individuals.
As the attention shifted from rescue to recovery efforts in Turkey and Syria, on February 15, 2023, the U.K. government announced the provision of a further £25 million ($30.2 million) to fund additional emergency relief. The package will support the efforts of the U.N. and various aid agencies in Syria as well as recovery efforts that the Turkish government led. The aid will particularly target women and girls who are at an increased risk of gender-based violence in displaced communities. It will also allow U.K. medics to continue to be deployed in the Turkoglu British field hospital where medical personnel are working with Turkish medics to provide critical care in the emergency department and 24/7 operating theatre.
Response from Local Communities Across the UK
The U.K.’s response to the Turkey-Syria earthquake has also included campaigns from local charities and organizations to help provide humanitarian assistance to those affected. In Manchester, the University of Manchester Turkish and Northern Cypriot Society set up a fundraiser for multiple disaster relief charities operating in Turkey and Syria. So far, the groups have mobilized students and university staff across Manchester to raise more than £11,000 ($13,300) and gather essentials such as sanitary pads, sleeping bags and food to send to aid organizations.
In Cardiff, a local mosque has started a fundraising campaign to donate money and goods to people in the affected regions. The manager of the mosque, Dr. Mohamed Gaber, launched the campaign to raise £50,000 ($60,475) for the cause. Talking to the BBC, he says, “Unfortunately, this is one of the few reasons for different nations to come together, and that is a positive part of this catastrophe,” before going on to remark that “this is a pure humanitarian cause, apart from any ideologies or religions.”
Notable fundraising efforts are also visible in North London where a large number of Turkish and Kurdish people live. In a Kurdish community center in Haringey, many Kurds have been gathering to support one another through the tragedy and accumulate donations to assist in relief efforts. A fundraising event took place in Haringey outside a local organic food store where people sold “homemade food and secondhand items” to raise more than £10,500 ($12,700) for victims of the Turkey-Syria earthquakes. The Turkish Cypriot Community Association also received a sizeable donation of 1,500 sleeping bags from Arsenal Football Club to help those that the earthquakes displaced.
Despite the Turkey-Syria earthquakes causing unprecedented losses and damage to the affected areas, both efforts from locals and the government to deliver humanitarian assistance in the U.K. have provided some relief and hope to a devastated region. As the U.K.’s response to the Turkey-Syria earthquake sees communities come together to fundraise and support one another through this tragic disaster, continued efforts to support humanitarian organizations are vital in preventing further losses and helping to rebuild destroyed communities.
– Priya Thakkar