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This is a developing situation, and this briefing should be read as correct at time of publication (15 February 2023)

On 6 February 2023, south-eastern Turkey and northern Syrian were hit by the most powerful earthquake in the region for over 80 years. This was quickly followed by a further earthquake and hundreds of aftershocks.

While the situation is still developing, widespread destruction has been reported. On 18 February 2023, more than 46,000 people have died and this figure is likely to increase. The natural disaster has exacerbated the high level of humanitarian need in the region, with many Syrian refugees concentrated in the 10 affected provinces of southern Turkey, and Syria suffering from over a decade of civil war.  

This briefing summarises the current situation, local and international responses, and the challenges of organising aid for Syria in the context of sanctions against the Assad regime, limited cross-border aid corridors, and the damage caused the country’s civil war.

Difficulties for delivering aid

In contrast to Turkey, where a central and unified state is able to use its infrastructure and social protection systems to respond to the earthquakes, a decade of civil war in Syria has caused extensive damage to infrastructure. The country is divided into hostile areas, and President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is internationally isolated.

In north west Syria, opposition groups control many of the worst-affected regions. Before the earthquakes, the region had a high level of humanitarian need and displacement, and the UN said its funding for the area was already overstretched.

Delivering aid is complicated by attitudes to the Syrian regime. Following the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, the country was expelled from the Arab League, and the UK and others applied additional sanctions against the regime following to its violent response to protests and breaking of chemical weapons conventions

While the Assad Government has said it stands ready to deliver aid to all of Syria, the regime has a history of aid diversion and many governments, including the United States and United Kingdom, have said they will not work with the regime. They have emphasised that although there are sanctions, these have humanitarian exemptions. The US expanded these exemptions on 9 February, and the UK on the 15 February.

There are now three cross-border crossings into northwest Syria, up from one (Bab al-Hawa) on the day of the earthquakes. Due to earthquake damage, Bab al-Hawa could not be re-opened until three days after the disaster.

The UN, Turkey, local groups and NGOs such as the White Helmets are expected to lead the response in north west Syria.

Local responses

In Turkey, the Government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has declared a state of emergency and announced the deployment of additional personnel and emergency funding to the 10 affected regions. Political opponents have criticised his response as too slow. ­

In Syria, most aid is likely to be sent via the UN and independent NGOs. Opposition groups in the north west have also called for aid, and the White Helmets are providing the immediate response.

International response

Turkey’s Government states more than 60 countries have sent aid and assistance. 2,600 foreign personnel have been deployed.

The UN has released US$50 million in emergency funding. It has launched a US$397 million aid appeal for Syria and US$1 billion appeal for Turkey. The UN emphasises only 48% of its pre-existing humanitarian funding request for north west Syria has been met.

The UK provided an initial £8 million in immediate assistance, including the deployment of search and rescue teams, and an additional £3.8 in funding to the Syrian White Helmets. A further £25 million was pledged on 15 February.

The United States and European Union have also announced emergency assistance and funding, as has NATO. The EU will host a donor conference to mobilise funds for Turkey and Syria in March 2023.

UK charities and earthquake appeals

The UK’s Disaster Emergency Committee has launched an emergency appeal. The UK Government will match up to £5 million in donations.

The Charity Commission has issued guidance on safe giving to support the relief efforts. Individuals can check if an organisation is registered online:  

Update log

15 February: Added UN appeal and opening of two additional aid corridors.

18 February: Updated figures on the effects of the earthquakes.

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