ShelterBox has sent an assessment team to Southern Turkey and Northern Syria, which were hit by devastating earthquakes earlier this week, to determine what support is needed there. Pictured above is a ShelterBox tent that was distributed to northeastern Syria in 2020. | Credit: ShelterBox

Charity organizations based in Santa Barbara County are responding to calls for assistance from Turkey and Syria after a series of powerful earthquakes caused widespread damage and killed thousands of people across the two countries on Monday. 

Two locally based relief organizations, Direct Relief and ShelterBox, are sending aid to the areas affected by the powerful quakes, where search and rescue activities are underway. 

The earthquakes are the worst to hit Turkey in 100 years. Turkey and Syria have declared a state of emergency and requested international assistance. After the first 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Turkey close to the Syrian border early Monday morning, the region was then hit with a second 6.7 magnitude aftershock, followed by a third 7.5 magnitude quake. 

The situation is dire. Freezing temperatures, snow, and rain in the region, as well as aftershocks from the quakes, have made rescue efforts difficult. Thousands of buildings were reduced to rubble, displacing many survivors and robbing many of shelter as the death toll continues to climb. 

Direct Relief prepares a shipment of emergency medical supplies for Turkey and Syria this Tuesday at its Santa Barbara warehouse. | Credit: Direct Relief

Established partnerships and prepositioned resources make them well-positioned to respond to the current crisis.

ShelterBox, an organization that specializes in providing emergency shelter and other life-saving supplies to families who lost their homes in disasters, will be sending a team out on Thursday to assess immediate shelter and humanitarian needs, then begin to mobilize their response.

“For many of the Syrian survivors, the ones that are in northern Syria, but also many in southern Turkey, this is just the latest in a series of unthinkable tragedies for them. They’re already extraordinarily vulnerable,” said Kerri Murray, president of ShelterBox U.S.A. “This is like a true crisis within a crisis.”

ShelterBox’s boots-on-the-ground approach will provide residents in need with essential items such as tents, shelter kits for repairing homes or creating single-room structures, solar lights, and thermal blankets and warm clothing for the freezing temperatures.

“We’ve been there for so long that it is just a natural spot for us to be able to now mobilize something significant,” Murray said. “So I’m happy our teams are going. It’s not without a lot of risks; it’s a challenging situation, but this is what we do.” 

Treatment for traumatic injuries and illnesses is also a pressing need in the aftermath of the earthquakes. Direct Relief, an organization that primarily provides medical resources to communities in need, announced an initial $200,000 commitment on Monday to support immediate search-and-rescue and medical-care efforts in both countries — $100,000 each to AKUT (Turkish Search & Rescue Team) and Syrian American Medical Society.

In addition, the organization is preparing 25 pallets of medical supplies, including field medic packs, antibiotics and other medicines, and oral rehydration solutions and hygiene items, to be delivered to affected areas. According to Direct Relief’s VP of Communications Tony Morain, the organization had already been providing cholera medicine to Syria in the past few weeks to help address the outbreak there, and will continue to aid the region as needed. 

“This is an absolutely catastrophic event, and it’s going to require a lot of international support,” Morain said. Donations to support relief efforts by Direct Relief and ShelterBox can be given through their websites.

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