How to help people affected by the earthquake in Turkey and Syria

Civil defense workers and security forces search through the wreckage of collapsed buildings in Hama, Syria, on Monday. (Omar Sanadiki/AP)

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck southern Turkey earlier this month massive destruction across Turkey and northern and central Syria, and beyond. More than 47,000 people were killed, with tens of thousands injured and millions displaced.

It is the strongest earthquake to hit Turkey in more than 80 years. The week after the disaster was a race against time in severe winter temperatures, as thousands of emergency responders dug through the rubble of collapsed buildings to find survivors, while medical teams tend to the injured.

The powerful earthquake and its dozens of aftershocks, including a second quake almost as strong as the initial one, come amid an existing humanitarian crisis in Syria, compounded by more than a decade of destructive civil war.

Here is how to help:

Start with groups you know

Major international groups are among the first to coordinate on-the-ground response teams in the affected regions. Some places to start:

International Rescue Committee: The IRC said has a large team in Syria providing essential health care, as well as emergency recovery and support services for those affected. The global group has also launched an integrated response in Turkey and Syria, which includes the provision of household kits, immediate cash and hygiene supplies.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent: Turkish Red Crescent teams — part of the International Red Cross — in Turkey and Syria are providing hot meals and drinks, shipping needed blood and plasma into affected areas, and providing survivors with psychosocial support, the American Red Cross said. The Turkish Red Crescent said it mobilized catering vehicles, mobile kitchens and thousands of tents.

Doctors Without Borders: Doctors Without Borders teams have already begun working in the affected areas, including at “impacted and overwhelmed” health facilities in northern Syria. The humanitarian medical NGO said its teams are reinforcing and supporting local medical teams, as well as donating emergency medical and essential life kits. The organization said one of its staff members was found dead under the rubble of his collapsed home.

United Nations World Food Programme: The WFP is accepting donations to deliver food within hours to those affected by the disaster.

UNICEF: The United Nations’ children agency is coordinating with Turkey’s government and emergency services on the broader disaster response. In Syria, UNICEF’s focus includes ensuring affected children and families can access water and sanitation services to prevent illness, as well as reuniting children separated from their families. The group is also coordinating nutrition services and medical supplies.

Oxfam: The British-founded group said it is gathering information on the scale of the destruction to come up with short- and long-term response plans. Oxfam said its Turkish affiliate group partners with dozens of women’s cooperatives, and is working with them to assess what is needed.

Save the Children: The international NGO said it has established a response team in Turkey to support the national emergency response plan. It added that it is working to assess the scale of damage in northwest Syria and Turkey, and is planning to support winterization and the provision of emergency kits.

Keep in mind that sometimes, you may not be able to specify where your donations are used; instead, those funds may support a group’s broader work.

Check that a nonprofit is reputable

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday that U.S.-supported humanitarian organizations already based in Syria are responding to the crisis. U.S. aid is on the way to Turkey, he added.

Some American nonprofit organizations doing work overseas are rated based on factors including fundraising efficiency and how much money goes directly to programs. Rating organizations include:

Charity Navigator: A U.S.-based nonprofit that rates charities based on a methodology that assesses impact and results; accountability and finance; leadership and adaptability; and culture and community.

Charity Watch: An independent U.S.-based charity watchdog that says it analyzes groups based on research that includes diving into financial statements and tax filings.

If you are in the United States and give to a U.S.-based charity, your donation is likely to be tax-deductible.

Look for local groups

Smaller local groups may be organizing efforts near you. This could include Turkish embassies and consulates, or Turkish and Syrian groups.

The Turkish Embassy in Washington, for example, said it would accept in-kind assistance through mail or in-person drop-offs, including of blankets, tents, winter clothing, medication, sleeping bags and pocket warmers. The donations would travel to the affected area via Turkish Airlines flights, the embassy said.

Assess charities outside the U.S.

For international aid groups based in other countries, look for local watchdog organizations to assess a charity’s trustworthiness, such as the U.K.'s Charity Register and Ireland’s Charities Regulator.

International charity groups are assessing the needs of the region. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Monday that Syria is in urgent need of heavy machinery to remove debris; cash distribution; tents, heating equipment and emergency food. Hospitals need medical material including blood bags, bandages and medicines, OCHA added.

The Disasters Emergency Committee, which brings together several U.K. charities to raise funds for crises, has launched an appeal to help people affected in Turkey and Syria, and said donations provide relief including medical aid, food and blankets. It says the U.K. government will match the first £5M ($6M) of donations from the public.

Navigating sanctions

Mobilizing aid to Syria, which has been torn by civil war for 12 years and is in a deep economic and humanitarian crisis, is a relatively thorny issue given U.S. sanctions.

In 2011, the U.S. government began imposing sanctions aimed to “deprive the regime of the resources it needs to continue violence against civilians and to pressure the Syrian regime to allow for a democratic transition as the Syrian people demand,” according to the State Department. The Biden administration has said that it would not recognize the government of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

The United Nations coordinates humanitarian assistance to Syria in both government and rebel-held areas, but it frequently faces bureaucratic obstacles and political interference.

Still, nearly all of the population of northwest Syria — 4.1 million of the region’s 4.5 million — already relies on humanitarian assistance, the United Nations said. The natural disaster is especially devastating for the many displaced and vulnerable families who live in tent camps, bombed-out buildings and other makeshift settlements.

The International Rescue Committee said Monday in a statement that the Syrian humanitarian response for the year is already “severely underfunded,” with only half of what is needed funded. The organization called on the international community to urgently increase funding so that “those affected by this emergency, within an emergency, get the support they need.”

Ellen Francis contributed to this report.