Canadian organizations deploying aid workers to regions devastated by the powerful earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria say they’re working to help survivors gain access to basic essentials in the aftermath of the disaster.
More than 23,000 people have been killed and thousands of buildings have been destroyed after the 7.8 magnitude quake and several powerful aftershocks hit the region on Monday, while millions of people have been displaced.
Hassan Wadi, a member of Human Concern International – a Muslim-led charity headquartered in Ottawa – said he travelled from Mississauga, Ont., to the Turkish city of Gaziantep this week to help the organization’s local team and partners deliver essentials to survivors, including meals and clothing.
Wadi said most of the city’s residents are sheltering in public buildings, mosques, tents and cars after their homes were destroyed or damaged in the quake.
“There’s no heating. There’s no hot water. It’s been very, very difficult,” he said in a phone interview from Turkey on Thursday.
“We came to the mosque here and we saw hundreds of people sleeping in that same mosque. These are families, these are elders. These are seniors, kids. And these are all people that once had a home.”
Wadi said the cold weather in the region makes providing winter clothing to survivors an urgent necessity.
“We were able to visit the camps here, all the people that were moved to tents, and provide them with mittens, gloves, hats, food,” he said.
“I’m here, and I’m freezing. And I’m from Canada.”
Toronto-based humanitarian aid organization GlobalMedic said two of its members landed in Turkey on Thursday and two more were expected to arrive soon to work with local partners to install water purification units in areas hit by the quake.
“Following a disaster, access to basic supplies becomes nearly impossible. This includes clean drinking water, with damage from the earthquake disrupting existing infrastructure such as water reservoirs,” the organization wrote in a statement.
“GlobalMedic’s Rapid Response Team has deployed with AquaResponse Water Purification Units to use in major-hit areas.”
GlobalMedic said it is also shipping emergency kits that include a ceramic water filter, solar lights and hygiene items to Turkey and Syria, along with large tenting infrastructure that can be used as field hospitals.
The Catholic Near East Welfare Association Canada, which is based in Ottawa, said it is working to provide materials for shelter to more than 2,000 families who survived the earthquake in northern Syria.
The organization said it’s also working with local partners in the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Hama to provide bedding, food, medicines, nursing formula, diapers and clothing to families who lost their homes.
“There is a general state of panic, exacerbated by the harsh weather, complicating rescue efforts and the capacity to collect and assess data and plan accordingly,” regional director Michel Constantin wrote in a statement.
Talha Ahmed, CEO of Penny Appeal Canada – a non-profit organization based in Mississauga, Ont. – said his organization is working with partners in Syria and Turkey to source supplies locally for those affected by the earthquake.
He said his group is also procuring and shipping essentials, including hygiene kit and food packs, from Dubai to the affected region.
Ahmed said getting aid to people in Syria is challenging due to the ongoing war there.
“Turkey is getting a lot of world support, but Syria isn’t getting much,” Ahmed said. “We’re starting to focus a lot more in Syria, they need a lot more support.”
The first UN aid trucks to enter the rebel-controlled area in northwest Syria from Turkey arrived on Thursday, underscoring the difficulty of getting help to people in the country.
About 6.9 million people were internally displaced in Syria before the earthquake and more than 6.8 million Syrians have been forced to flee their country since 2011, including 3.6 million in Turkey alone, according to the United Nations.
Ahmed said the federal government should increase its aid commitment to help those affected by the quake.
“Hopefully the numbers can go higher,” he said. “I think starting at a $80- $90- or $100-million commitment is good.”
Ottawa said this week that it will contribute $10 million to relief efforts in Turkey and Syria, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the federal government would match funds donated to Canadian Red Cross relief efforts up to $10 million.
International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan said the federal government was also looking at providing further aid.
“We are conducting the needs assessment to look at what would be the next steps,” Sajjan said, adding that “nothing is off the table.”