The earthquake in Turkey and Syria is a crisis within a crisis

The scale of this tragedy requires not only long-term funding and unfettered humanitarian access—but also sustained global solidarity—having once been forgotten

Published : 26 Feb 2023 09:03 PM

The consequences of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Eastern Türkiye and Northern Syria on Monday, February 6 are devastating. The International Rescue Committee’s staff on the ground are reporting of the immense human suffering and astounding levels of destruction.

Not only has the earthquake caused more than 46,000 deaths and injured over 100,000 people, it has worsened an already dire situation for Syrian families living through crisis for nearly 12 years.

Since 2012, the IRC’s 1,000 local staff members inside Syria have been responding to community needs in the country’s northwest and northeast—providing health care, protection services, early childhood development programs, and promoting economic recovery.

Syria faces a multitude of challenges that make it one of the world’s most complex humanitarian emergencies. In Northwest Syria, where 4.4 million people live, the security situation remains volatile, which has made humanitarian access challenging even prior to the earthquake. Civilians in these areas are living in perpetual conflict zones and have witnessed atrocities. Many live with life-changing physical and emotional wounds.

Under these conditions, the earthquake has created a crisis within a crisis. A crisis that has faded from the headlines and that urgently demands our renewed attention and long-term commitment.

There are three compounding factors which must be addressed as this response continues:


Since 2011, around 7 million Syrians have been internally displaced due to conflict. Now, tens of thousands are estimated to be newly displaced by the earthquake and desperately require shelter and safety. Many of these families have already been displaced multiple times over the last decade.

Only one day before the earthquake occurred, over two-thirds of Syria's 22 million population, required humanitarian aid—more than at any time since the conflict began. In the aftermath, needs are soaring.

Life-threatening conditions

Temperatures have plummeted to below zero in recent weeks. Most people don't have somewhere safe or warm to sleep at night. Few are in tents and many are sleeping outside using fires to keep themselves warm.

800,000 people in northwest Syria were already living in makeshift buildings without adequate sewage, electricity, or water supply before the earthquake. 

Gulf nations have mobilized to provide 

relief supplies, organize campaigns 

raising over $385 million, and airlift 

emergency services to both countries. 

These remarkable efforts must 

continue in the post shock phase as recovery 

and rehabilitation work begins 

in all areas affected

As the number of casualties continues to rise, the IRC is warning of a potential second disaster for survivors, if they don’t receive the means to live.

The health care system has collapsed and is now unable to cope. Following years of conflict, hospitals in northern Syria are severely overstretched. Damage to roads, and the current weather conditions, also make access to health services increasingly precarious.

The IRC is calling on the international community to urgently increase funding to ensure that families can access lifesaving medical assistance, clean water, food, and shelter.

Humanitarian access

Help from the outside world is needed now more than ever. However, the vast majority of aid can only reach people through delivery across the Syria-Türkiye border. We know roads and infrastructure, like bridges, were damaged by the earthquake, which makes it even more challenging for supplies to reach people.

Even before the earthquake, the humanitarian situation was dire in northwest Syria, with insufficient access to meet the rising needs. Now, the devastation has made increasing access to these communities by any means possible of paramount importance.

The IRC has consistently argued that cross-border assistance is a vital lifeline with no viable alternatives. We have also argued that this assistance be expanded beyond one crossing point to ensure the appropriate flow of people, equipment and supplies into northwest Syria to meet increasing humanitarian needs.

We welcome the announcement that two additional crossing points, which are currently open for commercial shipments, are now opened for UN cross-border assistance for the next three months. We hope that this will ensure faster facilitation and scaling up of much needed aid to northwest Syria. However, the impact of this earthquake will be felt for far longer than three months, and we will continue to call for all viable pathways for aid delivery to be expanded and extended.

Urgent global call to action

The IRC remains committed and is scaling up an integrated response in both countries—thanks to the courage of our colleagues and the support of our partners in the region.

To prevent a secondary humanitarian disaster—including for those who were already suffering before the earthquake—the IRC is calling on the international community to increase funding to help people survive, recover and rebuild their lives. It is critical that aid gets to the most impacted areas and reaches people in need wherever they are, especially in Northwest Syria, where communities are at risk of being left behind.

Gulf nations have mobilized to provide relief supplies, organize campaigns raising over $385 million, and airlift emergency services to both countries. These remarkable efforts must continue in the post shock phase as recovery and rehabilitation work begins in all areas affected.

The scale of this tragedy requires not only long-term funding and unfettered humanitarian access—but also sustained global solidarity—having once been forgotten.

David Miliband is President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee and a former Foreign Secretary of the 

United Kingdom (2007-2010). Source: