One of the largest earthquakes to affect the region in decades has struck south-central Turkiye and northern Syria last night, with over 2,000 fatalities already reported. The epicentre of the earthquake, which registered 7.8 in magnitude on the Richter scale, was the Pazarcık district of Türkiye’s Kahramanmaraş, north of Gazientep on the Syrian-Turkish border, and tremors were felt as far away as Cyprus, Lebanon, and Northern Iraq.
Secondary tremors on Monday, including two magnitude 6.5 quakes that struck south-eastern Gaziantep province, caused further devastation and threaten to hamper relief efforts.
Tragically the death toll on both sides of the Syrian-Turkish borders is set to rise as rescue workers, residents, and volunteers scrambled to search for survivors amidst destroyed buildings, many of which collapsed while residents were sleeping.
Humanitarian organisations and agencies in the region, such as the Turkish Red Crescent and Syrian Red Crescent movements, and in opposition-held areas of Northern Syria the White Helmets, have already mobilised to mount relief operations and search for survivors, as have international humanitarian agencies and states. States such as China, the European Union, Russia, the UK and the US have pledged humanitarian supplies, search and rescue specialists, and emergency medical teams. A number of other countries have joined the expanding international relief efforts, including the United Arab Emirates which will set up a field hospital in Turkey, and Qatar which was sending rescuers and emergency supplies.
The Syrian, Turkish, and Kurdish diaspora have also been active in mounting a humanitarian response. Syrian diaspora networks such as the American Relief Coalition for Syria (ARCS) in the US have mobilised teams of volunteers with specialist skills on the ground in Syria and Turkiye, and Hand in Hand for Aid and Development (HIHFAD), a member of the Syrian Charities and Networks in the UK (SCAN UK), has launched an emergency fundraising appeal for relief supplies such as fuel, food, and shelter.
These diaspora responses for those affected by the earthquake also demonstrate the importance of transnational action, and the value of common communications tools such as mobile apps in connecting local responders to their diaspora partners in order to share information quickly about needs on the ground, as well as potential sources of support and technical assistance. Shabaka’s USAID-funded Switchboard project is exploring use of mobile apps to support diaspora humanitarian responses and pre-crisis resilience-building in Haiti, Sudan, and Syria.