Aid appeals launched as earthquakes flatten towns and cities across Türkiye and Syria

Gulf donors step up to support emergency response as death toll soars amid freezing temperatures and blocked aid convoys.

Governments, philanthropists, businesses, and members of the public from across the Gulf region rallied to support people affected by the earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria. Millions of dollars were donated in a matter of days and planes carrying food, blankets, medical supplies, and search and rescue teams were despatched to the worst-affected areas in both countries.

A 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck close to Gaziantep in southern-eastern Türkiye near the Syrian border in the early hours of Monday 7th February, followed by dozens of aftershocks felt as far away as Egypt and Cyprus.

In the towns and cities closest to the epicentre, high rise buildings crumbled to the ground, crushing cars and trapping people under piles of bricks and glass. Just a few hours later, there was a second quake, this time measuring 7.5, followed by more aftershocks, and more destruction, leaving whole neighbourhoods flattened and  severing power and water supplies.

Search teams, medics, dog handlers and soldiers from around the world joined local emergency personnel to scour the heaps of buckled concrete and metal for survivors. In one instance, a newborn baby was lucky to be found alive, as she was pulled from rubble, still attached to her dead mother’s umbilical cord.

But for all their efforts, rescuers were hampered by the sheer scale of the destruction, as well as difficult weather conditions and limited access to parts of Syria still isolated by conflict, where many searches were left to be done by hand

As a result, within just three days, the number of people killed by the quake had risen above 17,000, making it one the world’s deadliest in nearly a decade. The final death toll will likely be far higher.

The affected area stretches from the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Hama, right across to Türkiye’s Diyarbakir, more than 200 miles away, leaving some 23 million people in need of emergency aid and hundreds of thousands homeless amid freezing temperatures.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced a three-month state of emergency in 10 quake hit provinces and announced a state-sponsored cash relief package equivalent to US$532 for affected families.

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Hundreds of thousands of people have been left homeless by the earthquakes. Rescue efforts have been hampered by snowfall and freezing temperatures. Photo: IFRC

In rebel-held north-west Syria, which has been pounded by government and Russian air strikes for several years, the quake has only deepened existing suffering. The region, which is also hosting millions of displaced families, already had crumbling infrastructure and is in the grip a cholera outbreak.

“People are facing nightmare on top of nightmare," said UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres. "The earthquake struck as the humanitarian crisis in northwest Syria was already worsening, with needs at their highest level since the conflict began.”

However, despite the extreme needs, it took four days for the first convoy of aid to reach the rebel-held areas of the country due to politicisation around aid access from across the border with Türkiye. Aid workers and campaigners were united in their calls for more corridors to open to allow essential items to pass into Syria from Türkiye, in addition to the official route via the Syrian capital Damascus.

In response to the earthquake, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) launched two emergency appeals totalling CHF 200m (US$220m) to support the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the Turkish Red Crescent, the national frontline teams on the ground in both countries.

Xavier Castellanos, IFRC Under Secretary General for National Society Development and Operations Coordination, said: “The vulnerabilities are coupled on top of harsh winter conditions, making it unbearable for many. The vulnerable living conditions, particularly in Syria, are even further stretched in a decade-long war… We must join forces and do our best to help.”

“People are facing nightmare on top of nightmare."

Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General

In the UAE, President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan announced an aid package worth US$100m ($50m for Türkiye and $50m for Syria). This included seven planeloads of medical and other supplies, an Emirati search and rescue team, and a field hospital for the city of Gaziantep.

Vice President and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, meanwhile, ordered humanitarian aid worth Dh50m ($13.6m) to support affected Syrians via the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives.

Still in the UAE, the Emirates Red Crescent (ERC) launched a volunteer campaign called Bridges of Goodness in partnership with several leading local charities, including Dubai Cares, Dar Al Ber Society, DP World Foundation, and the Dubai Charity Association, to gather cash and in-kind items from local business and members of the public to send on to affected Syrian and Turkish families.

Significant donations to this appeal included Dh50m from the Sheikha Fatima Fund for Refugee Women.

UAE corporates also mobilised: Al Ansari Exchange announced a gift of $1m to the relief effort; super-app Careem created a new donation button for its customers in Jordan to donate directly to the quake response; and Art Dubai announced on social media that half of its ticket sales would be given to quake victims.

In Saudi Arabia, the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre (KSRelief) launched an online appeal, raising millions of dollars to pay for essential supplies and teams to be flown into the quake-hit region, and similar appeals were also launched in Qatar and Kuwait. - PA