Aid is being stepped up in southern Turkey and northern Syria after a massive earthquake devastated the region and killed more than 7,000 people.
The magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck near Gaziantep, Turkey in the early hours of Monday, reducing apartment buildings to rubble at a time when most were asleep.
It’s a region that hasn’t had a major earthquake, or warning signs, for over 200 years.
National governments of many countries, including the UK, US, China and Russia, provide assistance, including search and rescue experts.
And many charities are also launching appeals and sending teams to the area.
The British Red Cross was one of the first major UK charities to make its appeal.
It is working with the Turkish Red Crescent and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, and is already on the ground “to provide urgent support during these critical hours” and bring people to safety.
Many of the injured have lost their homes and all their possessions, surviving in freezing cold or rain with little shelter or food.
Oxfam is another major charity that has launched an appeal.
It said it would focus on providing “protection, water and sanitation, shelter and food,” while also assessing people’s long-term needs in the wake of so much destruction.
Ankara spokesperson Meryem Aslan said locals were “shocked” and struggling to cope “after two major earthquakes and more than 60 aftershocks”.
“The scale of destruction is huge. People are still in shock and fear, they don’t even have time to mourn the lost,” she said.
Turkish and Syrian communities in the UK – many seeking information on missing loved ones – have launched their own local donation drives – many using Facebook to reach out to volunteers and donors.
A spokesman for the British Turkish Association, based in Luton, said the response from “all communities” in London was “emotional”.
Atilla Ustun, 55, also a president of the Luton-Turkish Community Association, spoke to Heathrow’s PA news agency as he helped load a Turkish Airlines cargo plane with more than 300 boxes of donated clothing, medical supplies and baby aid.
“All the communities in Luton and the surrounding area have flocked in to donate… Just locally, in Luton itself, we’ve raised about £20,000,” he said, “but we know that in general, I think it’s in London now between £200,000 and 300,000.”
Ali Topaloglu, from the Turkish community in Nottingham, is part of a campaign asking for donations of tents, blankets and clothing for Turkey, as well as money for food parcels.
‘The cold will kill’
The region hit by the earthquake is home to millions of refugees displaced by the Syrian civil war, and the northern areas are still embroiled in conflict.
It was already an important hub for NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and charities – many of whom have been there for years, as part of cross-border support for people displaced by war.
Organizations such as Save the Children, UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders have all issued appeals in response to the quake.
Doctors Without Borders provided immediate support to 23 healthcare facilities in Idlib and Aleppo in northwestern Syria, where hospitals and clinics are “overwhelmed” and access to the war-torn region can be difficult for outside medical staff.
The charity is providing emergency medical kits and staff to bolster local health teams that are “working around the clock to respond to the massive numbers of injured”.
“The needs are very high in north-western Syria as this earthquake puts a dramatic low on the vulnerable populations who are still struggling after many years of war,” said Sebastien Gay, head of MSF in Syria.
Save the Children said it had spent a lot of time so far checking needs and what was working logistically.
James Denselow, head of conflict and humanitarian advocacy in the UK, said: “Providing shelter is the most urgent form of assistance from our perspective, because the cold will kill people in ways less spectacular than the earthquake, but just as deadly.”
He said that with airports out of action and hospitals and clinics collapsed, “all kinds of places that we would normally use are not necessarily accessible”.
He added that the aid route to northern Syria remained inadequate.
“Northern Syria is an area where we experienced severe malnutrition and much greater humanitarian needs than in other environments before this happened,” he said.
“If you’re a vulnerable population and something like this happens again, what’s happening to you is probably much worse.
“We see that with very basic things like children’s physiology. A child’s ability to survive an accident from a building falling on them is much less if they are malnourished.”
He added: “This is about getting blankets, food, clean water, education kits – so kids don’t find their studies completely destroyed by this – to them.
“We have to keep those people warm. We have to keep young babies warm.”
David Wightwick, CEO of medical aid organization UK-Med, said his team was heading to Turkey to assess where their help was most needed before mobilizing their register of hundreds of NHS medics.
“You can imagine that in an area of the size and numbers affected, it’s not necessarily an easy decision to make,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
Typically, the larger humanitarian organizations do not solicit donations of blankets or clothing – preferring cash instead.
“What people give today may not be what people need tomorrow,” said Oxfam, pointing to delays in aid reaching victims due to shipping times from the UK.
“Our approach is to work with local organizations and communities on the ground, rather than sending blankets, clothing and other donated goods from the UK,” said the charity’s humanitarian leader Magnus Corfixen.
“In emergency situations, we often do cash distributions because it is faster, allows people to get what they need most and also helps the local economy recover. From our many years of experience, we have found that cash not only gives people choices, but also helps to maintain their dignity.”