What You Can Do Right Now To Help Victims of the Earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, According to Humanitarian Aid Experts

Photo: W+G Creative
On Monday morning, a massive earthquake rocked southern Turkey, officially the Republic of Türkiye, and northern Syria. Registering at a 7.8-magnitude on the Richter scale and happening just outside Gaziantep, a major city in Türkiye, the earthquake was followed by more than 100 aftershocks, including one at a magnitude of 7.5. As of Wednesday, more than 11,000 people have died as a result of the earthquakes and tens of thousands have sustained serious injuries. Those numbers are expected to increase, as search and rescue efforts remain in progress, with rescuers working in freezing weather conditions and racing against the clock to recover survivors trapped in the rubble of destroyed buildings.

Experts In This Article

At the same time, a humanitarian crisis is unfolding among survivors. People in affected areas are displaced from their homes, unable to return until buildings are inspected and deemed safe—and it's unclear when that will happen. In the meantime, many find themselves without adequate water, shelter, or food.

Several additional factors are making relief efforts trickier, says Sandrina da Cruz, director of disaster and humanitarian response at GlobalGiving, an online crowdfunding platform for global charitable projects. It features vetted groups accepting donations to provide aid in Türkiye and Syria. “Certain areas have been flattened, and some areas are still not being reached because there isn’t access," she says. "We're also looking at really terrible weather that is making these efforts worse.”

In Syria, the country’s civil war was already creating humanitarian crises and access issues for relief, making earthquake response efforts even tougher. Maryam Z. Deloffre, director of the Humanitarian Action Initiative at George Washington University, says existing migration flows, a cholera outbreak, and food insecurity are all at play in Syria on top of the damage from the earthquakes. “You have overlapping layers of humanitarian crises that are really going to make it very difficult to rebuild quickly,” she says.

The best way to help victims of the earthquakes from afar is to donate cash to reputable, vetted organizations that operate locally in affected areas.

Many countries and alliances sending rescue workers and aid, but every single person on an individual level can also help in a meaningful way. According to humanitarian aid experts, the best way to help victims of the earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria from afar is to donate cash to reputable, vetted organizations that operate locally in affected areas. Aside from search and rescue, “in the immediate aftermath, it’s really cash and material goods that matter,” Deloffre says.

The most immediate needs of earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria

Fully recovering from the destruction of property and infrastructure will require years. But the focus in the immediate aftermath of such a natural disaster is on search and rescue operations and tending to the crucial basic needs of survivors and displaced people. “After we move from the initial days of search and rescue operations and the initial support for the medical needs of the survivors, then it's really a continued focus on temporary shelter and ensuring that people have access to food and to meet their urgent needs,” says Da Cruz.

Da Cruz says her organization, GlobalGiving, has been working with about 35 partner organizations locally to provide support. Their work includes helping with search and rescue efforts and providing humanitarian aid like temporary shelter, food, water, and medical care.

Here’s what you can do to help right now, according to humanitarian aid experts.

3 tips to most effectively help earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria right now

1. Cash is king—here's why and ideas for where to send it

Humanitarian aid experts say the best way to support victims right now from afar is to donate cash to vetted organizations with local ties because they have established systems in place to use those funds effectively and immediately. Cash donations allow the aid groups flexibility to address the changing needs of the people they’re helping and to distribute goods they purchase swiftly.

“When basic infrastructure has been damaged, it's harder to move things in from abroad than it is to just mobilize and use resources within the country." —Maryam Z. Deloffre, humanitarian aid expert

That's why both Da Cruz and Deloffre discourage donating of supplies. Such well-intentioned plans may be thwarted by logistical delays and end up not helping at all, as intended. “In a situation like this, where basic infrastructure, like roads and airports, has been damaged, it's a lot harder to move things in from abroad than it is to just mobilize and use resources within the country," Deloffre says. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) echoes this advice on its page dedicated to the earthquakes, and also lists additional groups you could support.

(As a caveat, the Turkish embassy and consulate in the United States is an exception, as it is accepting donations of cash and supplies. Deloffre says this is a different situation from other in-kind drives—which describe donations of goods other than cash—because government entities have more access and ability to transport and distribute goods than other groups might.)

It’s worth donating to any of the major international humanitarian aid nonprofits, such as the International Rescue Committee, UN Crisis Relief, UNICEF, and Doctors Without Borders, but there are also organizations based in Türkiye and Syria that could use support, too.

Some of the groups GlobalGiving works with include the International Blue Crescent and Development Foundation, which Da Cruz says is working from offices in Gaziantep and Hatay, a province that’s been badly affected, Kilis, and Sanliurfa. It's providing heaters for tents, blankets, thermal clothing, and food. Support to Life, a Turkish-registered organization focused on disaster response, is distributing winter relief items. The Turkish Philanthropy Fund, a New York-based group dedicated to the advancement of Turkish and Turkish-American communities, is working with partners on the ground to aid in longer term recovery and provide shelter, food, water, and medicine.

In Syria, specifically, you might donate to the Syrian Expatriate Medical Association (SEMA), which is providing food and emergency medical services. According to Da Cruz, SEMA has substantial experience doing exactly this. NuDay is supporting the White Helmets, a volunteer defense organization, in search and rescue efforts.

If you know people in the region and feel comfortable, direct cash transfers to those affected can be helpful, too.

2. Vet organizations to which you donate

Given the 24-hour news cycle happening on a number of different mediums and platforms, information and misinformation both flow fast in the aftermath of global events. This reality emphasizes the importance of verifying the organizations to which you donate.

Key pointers include looking for information about how money will be spent, and any project plans and expense reports. Watchdog groups like BBB Giving Alliance and Charity Watch, which vet charities for accountability, have lists of groups they approve for donation. Charity Watch also provides a tip sheet for consumers looking to assess organizations. Especially if you're donating from abroad and aren't familiar with the region, it's crucial to keep these safeguards in mind.

3. In the longer term, keep paying attention and be ready to help

While the best way to help in the days and weeks following the earthquakes is via cash donations, if that's not in the cards for you right now, Da Cruz says raising awareness on the platforms you have and encouraging people who are able to donate to do so is meaningful as well. There may also be opportunities to assist in various ways in the future. The needs of affected people will change and recovery will be ongoing.

“Someone who can’t help in this immediate aftermath can sort of keep an eye out for what’s next,” Deloffre adds. In addition to appealing for donations from others and spreading awareness, this might include looking for opportunities to help with longer-term recovery or refugee resettlement in the United States or elsewhere.

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