Survivors still need support to rise from the rubble of the Türkiye-Syria earthquake

One year ago, Türkiye and Syria faced a devastating earthquake, swiftly followed by hundreds of aftershocks and another deadly quake. Reflecting on the resilience and hardships of survivors, Shahin Ashraf, Islamic Relief’s head of global advocacy, calls for support with sustained aid and recovery.

Shahin Ashraf, Global Head of Advocacy for Islamic Relief Worldwide

The earthquake of 6 February 2023 exacerbated challenges faced by communities in dire need. The 11 provinces in Türkiye’s southern region, already battling high poverty rates, became epicentres of devastation. Meanwhile, in Syria’s crisis-ridden northwestern region, where 90% of the population relied on humanitarian aid, the earthquake added another layer of hardship.

The earthquake news from Türkiye and Syria sent a shiver down my spine, triggering memories of my own unsettling experience. In the eerie stillness just before morning prayer at 4:31am on 17 January 1994, a deep rumbling noise, resembling the approach of a distant train, pierced the silence, accompanied by violent shaking. The chilling sounds of my neighbours’ screams and distant voices urgently declaring, “Earthquake!”

In 2023, hearing about the earthquake instantly transported me back to that morning in Los Angeles, USA. While I can’t fully comprehend the experiences of those affected in Türkiye and Syria, I resonate with the lingering feelings that accompany such profound events. The haunting memories, displacement, and rebuilding process echo my own journey.

In this shared resonance of resilience and recovery, a universal understanding emerges, transcending geographical boundaries and cultural differences. Reflecting on seismic events that shape our lives globally. The threads of fear, uncertainty, and the resilience needed to navigate the aftermath of disasters bind us as a global community. The empathy stirred by these news reports reminds me of our interconnectedness and the fragility of the ground we stand upon.

I couldn’t help but feel a kinship with those facing the daunting task of rebuilding. The road ahead is undoubtedly challenging, marked by physical reconstruction and emotional healing. However, my own experience has taught me that the human spirit is remarkably resilient.

The human toll

The preexisting vulnerabilities of these regions intensified the impact of the earthquake, creating a profound humanitarian crisis.

For example, even before the earthquakes, increasing pressures on water sources in Türkiye and Syria due to climate change impacts, population growth, and socio-political considerations were evident. With the damage to infrastructure caused by the earthquakes, water scarcity is now an even more pressing problem.

The earthquakes and aftershocks claimed over 50,000 lives and left more than 100,000 injured. The numbers speak of tragedy. According to a stark damage assessment study by Ministry of Environment, Urbanisation and Climate Change, over 50,000 homes were destroyed, thrusting a significant portion of the population into displacement and homelessness.

Picture this: more than 3 million people found themselves displaced in Türkiye alone, with 2.6 million individuals seeking refuge in temporary settlements that lacked the essentials: clean water, sanitation, and healthcare. These were not just statistics; they were the stories of shattered lives, families torn from their homes, grappling with the harsh reality of inadequate living conditions.

Venture into northwestern Syria, and the toll became even more heartrending. In a region where more than 2.74 million were already displaced, nearly 109,000 individuals were further uprooted by the earthquake’s devastating force.

The infrastructure damage in Syria was compounded by the scars of previous crises. Buildings broken and battered by the earthquake were already weakened, cracked by the intensity of past shelling. It was a tragic overlap of 2 calamities, leaving traumatised communities grappling not just with the consequences of nature’s fury but also the lingering wounds of human violence.

I was incredibly moved by the story of Ahmad, a Syrian refugee, who lived in a peaceful village before fleeing to Türkiye in search of safety:

“With each passing day, our village transformed from a haven of peace into a tapestry of chaos and despair. Work ceased, and food became scarce, forcing us into a nomadic life, moving from one village to another in search of safety,” Ahmad said, describing his ordeal to Islamic Relief.

As the situation worsened, Ahmad said his family made “the heart-wrenching decision to leave everything behind” as they set off on a dangerous journey to neighbouring Türkiye. He described the language barrier as the greatest trial, “an invisible wall standing between them and their new home.” But still, they felt safer there than at home in Syria – until 6 February 2023.

“The earthquake struck without warning, shaking the very foundations of our home. We rushed outside, watching in horror as the earth convulsed. Our house, our sanctuary, crumbled before our eyes, but thankfully, our lives were spared.”

Ahmad inside the tent that became his family’s only shelter in the aftermath of the disaster

Ongoing struggles

Though the immediate danger has passed, both countries still grapple with earthquake aftershocks. With only 54% of the United Nations’ Türkiye appeal funded and 36% of the Humanitarian Response Plan funded for Syria, donor fatigue poses a significant challenge. The region’s geopolitical landscape, coupled with aid withdrawals, threatens further humanitarian crises.

Call to action

In the context of Syria, the call for dialogue is a plea for collaborative problem-solving amidst the complex challenges faced by the country. Islamic Relief continues to emphasise ongoing engagement between sanctioning authorities and aid agencies to ensure relief efforts are not hindered.

Given the interconnected challenges experienced by the affected communities in Syria, this call to action underscores the necessity of a collective effort that goes beyond immediate relief. As we advocate for sustainable solutions in post-earthquake recovery and conflict resolution, addressing challenges posed by sanctions and infrastructure issues becomes imperative. Islamic Relief’s call for a shift from punitive measures to collaborative dialogue underscores the need for a nuanced approach.

Donate and support

In times of crisis, communities come together, rising above the rubble to support one another. It is my hope that the affected regions find strength in unity, drawing from the collective well of human compassion. The seismic waves may have shaken the foundations, but the indomitable spirit of those affected will undoubtedly guide them through the process of rebuilding, forging a narrative of recovery, strength, and solidarity.

As the days turned into months, and the months into a year, the impact of the Türkiye-Syria earthquakes refuses to diminish. The scars left on the landscape are not just physical but etched into the collective memory of communities that continue to grapple with the aftermath. In the face of such persistent adversity, it’s a harsh reality that the world’s attention has largely moved on, diverted by the pressing demands of other crises. However, even as the headlines fade, Islamic Relief remains resolute, addressing the ongoing needs of communities still reeling from the dual blows of nature’s wrath and the enduring repercussions of crisis.

This steadfast commitment goes beyond the immediate aftermath, beyond humanitarian response. It’s a pledge to remain engaged, to continue offering assistance to families still struggling for survival. For those who are left, Islamic Relief remains a crucial link to sustained aid and recovery.

So, as we reflect on the year that has passed since the Türkiye-Syria earthquake, let’s not just remember the initial outpouring of support but also acknowledge the ongoing need. The call to give to Islamic Relief is not a fleeting one; it’s an enduring plea to ensure that assistance and hope persist in the lives of those who still bear the heavy burden of rebuilding not just homes but entire lives. In the face of such ongoing challenges, your continued support can make a lasting difference.

The survivors of this disaster are battered but unbroken. With your support, Islamic Relief can continue helping them rebuild their lives and communities. Please donate to our Türkiye-Syria Earthquake Emergency fund now.

new director

Director of Network and Resource Development

Adnan joined Islamic Relief in 2004 as a regional fundraiser in the UK. He worked in multiple roles over 10 years at Islamic Relief UK, including setting up the first digital team and leading the growth of digital fundraising and engagement. Adnan also led numerous fundraising and marketing campaigns, which played a significant part in the growth of Islamic Relief UK.

Having moved to Islamic Relief Worldwide in 2014, Adnan has held different roles that have helped grow Islamic Relief’s global digital footprint into new geographic territories, supporting Islamic Relief members with their digital and marketing growth as well as developing new products and initiatives for the Islamic Relief family.

Adnan graduated in Industrial Design and Technology from Loughborough University. He has since completed an Advanced Diploma in Business Administration from Durham University and a Diploma in Digital Marketing from the Institute of Data and Marketing.

Nadeem Azhar

General Counsel

Nadeem joined Islamic Relief Worldwide in September 2022. He has worked in the charitable sector for over a decade.

He studied Modern History and Politics at Manchester University, and at the University of Law in London before qualifying as a solicitor in 2011.

Nadeem is an experienced corporate, commercial and governance lawyer, having worked with various faith-based and grant making charities as well those in health and education settings. He was a partner at a law firm in London before moving in-house where he focused on setting up and restructuring charities and social enterprises.

Most recently, Nadeem was Lead Counsel at Mind, a leading mental health charity, where he co-authored a new federation agreement, revamped legal processes, and played a major role in developing its strategic and fundraising partnerships.

Nadeem has been a charity trustee for the Seafarers Charity, as well as many grant-making bodies and theatre companies.

Adnan Hafiz

Director of Network and Resource Development

Adnan joined Islamic Relief in 2004 as a regional fundraiser in the UK. He worked in multiple roles over 10 years at Islamic Relief UK, including setting up the first digital team and leading the growth of digital fundraising and engagement. Adnan also led numerous fundraising and marketing campaigns, which played a significant part in the growth of Islamic Relief UK.

Having moved to Islamic Relief Worldwide in 2014, Adnan has held different roles that have helped grow Islamic Relief’s global digital footprint into new geographic territories, supporting Islamic Relief members with their digital and marketing growth as well as developing new products and initiatives for the Islamic Relief family.

Adnan graduated in Industrial Design and Technology from Loughborough University. He has since completed an Advanced Diploma in Business Administration from Durham University and a Diploma in Digital Marketing from the Institute of Data and Marketing.

Board of Directors
Javed Akhtar

Director of Finance

Javed Akhtar has more than a decade of experience at Islamic Relief, having worked in a similar role between 2003-2014. In that role he strove to implement wide-ranging financial and accounting processes which aided in the transparent nature in which Islamic Relief now operates.

Javed also has diverse experience across the private sector, having worked at American chemicals and pharmaceutical giant DuPont, shipping firm FedEX and technology consultancy company Accenture. In all his roles, he prioritises using the latest technologies to improve monitoring and reporting at every level. Javed’s commitment to embracing digital end-to-end technology, enhancing accountability to our stakeholders and promoting financial transparency is ensuring that we remain at the forefront of financial developments in the sector.

By training, Javed is a chartered accountant with a Master’s degree in NGO Management with Charity Accounting and Financial Management from Cass Business School.
Board of Directors
Affan Cheema  

Director of International Programmes

Affan Cheema is an experienced leader who has spent 25 years working in the international aid sector on poverty eradication in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. He has worked in fast onset emergencies, protracted crisis and development environments whilst working for Islamic Relief Worldwide and Care International. He is also a trustee of South West International Development Network (SWIDN).

Through his career Affan has held numerous roles including institutional fundraising, programme and grant management, and programme quality assurance.  Affan’s leadership has helped Islamic Relief Worldwide secure the highly coveted Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS), seen as the sector’s premier benchmark for operational excellence.

Affan completed his BA in Economics and Geography from University of London (School of Oriental and African Studies) and his MSc in Development Administration and Planning from the University of Bristol. He is PRINCE2 qualified, is a keen sportsman and recently co-edited a book entitled -Islam and International Development: Insights for working with Muslim Communities-.
Board of Directors
Dr Hossam Said

Managing Director, Humanitarian Academy for Development (HAD)

For nearly three decades Dr Hossam has provided the strategic vision to manage, lead and develop a range of international humanitarian interventions around the world.

At the start of his career, Dr Hossam served on the Board of Directors of the Egyptian Medical Syndicate, before moving to Islamic Relief Worldwide to manage the core global business activities as International Programmes Director.

During this time the organisation increased its global reach, gaining both domestic and international repute and credibility. Dr Hossam has also served on the Islamic Relief Worldwide Board of Management and Executive Committee for the past 15 years; sharing responsibility for strategic organisational development and the change management process, whilst forging strong relationships with many other charities.

Dr Hossam gained an MBA from Aston Business School in 2004 and graduated as a Medical Doctor from Cairo University in 1981.
Board of Directors
Martin Cottingham  

Director of External Relations and Advocacy

Martin Cottingham joined Islamic Relief in 2012 as IRUK Media Relations Manager, and was appointed Head of Communications in 2015 before taking up his current position as Director of External Relations and Advocacy for Islamic Relief Worldwide.

Martin has helped Islamic Relief to increase its mainstream media profile and expand its campaigning work, producing hard-hitting advocacy reports on floods in Pakistan (2011) famine in Somalia (2012) disaster risk reduction (2013) and aid to Afghanistan (2014). He has over 20 years’ experience working in media, communications and marketing roles for international development and environmental charities.

Martin graduated from the University of London with a degree in English and Drama (1982-85) then trained as a journalist with a postgraduate diploma at City University (1986-87). He has previously worked for Christian Aid as Editor of Christian Aid News and Media Relations Manager (1988-97) for Oxfam as Regional Campaigns Manager (1997-2000) and at the Soil Association as Marketing Director (2001-2006), as well as working for a wide range of organisations as a freelance writer, researcher and communications consultant.

Tufail Hussain

Director of Islamic Relief UK

Tufail Hussain has 17 years’ experience in the humanitarian and development sector, leading on marketing and fundraising campaigns for several organisations before joining Islamic Relief UK in 2016 as Deputy Director. Tufail was appointed Director of Islamic Relief UK in 2019 and in 2021 provided valuable leadership as interim CEO of Islamic Relief Worldwide.

Tufail is driven by a passion for empowering disadvantaged youth and mentors a number of young people. He also works to strengthen engagement between British Muslims and wider society. Under his leadership, Islamic Relief UK has significantly increased its income and developed successful partnerships with communities across the country. He has travelled around the world to raise awareness of major emergencies such as the Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan crises and the floods in Pakistan and Sudan.

A father to 5 daughters and a son, Tufail is also a sports enthusiast and passionate Liverpool FC supporter. Tufail has run the London Marathon twice, raising over £35,000 for humanitarian causes.

Before joining Islamic Relief he was CEO of Orphans in Need, where he oversaw a new strategy that increased income from £2 million to £9 million in 3 years and opened up new UK and international offices. Tufail is also a trustee of the Muslim Charities Forum and a Director of TIC International (Islamic Relief Worldwide’s clothes recycling and trading arm).
Waseem Ahmad

Chief Executive Officer

Waseem Ahmad joined the Islamic Relief family over 24 years ago, serving as Programme Officer in the Balochistan province of south-western Pakistan before becoming Head of Programmes in Pakistan. Waseem then moved to Oxfam and Tearfund before returning to Islamic Relief to establish our mission in Malawi. Later serving as Head of Programme Funding and Partnerships, Waseem led the response to major crises across the globe, including the East Africa drought, Pakistan earthquake and the Indian Ocean Tsunami.

Waseem then served for nearly 6 years as our Director of International Programmes, during which time the charity secured and retained the coveted Core Humanitarian Standard certification in recognition of the quality of our programming. He was appointed CEO of Islamic Relief in May 2021.

With a special interest in community mobilisation and infrastructure, Waseem received an MSc in Project Planning and Management from the University of Bradford, as well as an MSc in Economics from Arid Agriculture University in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

Waseem has also worked for Lepra Health in Action and is a member of the International Civil Society Centre’s Board of Trustees. The father-of-3 enjoys walking and playing football, and is a keen birdwatcher.