By Huw Owen, Disasters Emergency Committee 

It’s an indication of how fast the world continues to turn that readers may have long forgotten the devastating earthquakes that shattered the lives of millions of people in Turkey and Syria this time last year.

Such are the metaphorically seismic crises in the Middle East, Ukraine on top of the political and economic travails here in Scotland and the rest of the UK, it’s quite understandable that the biggest natural disaster in Europe for many years has slipped from our collective consciousness.

As we reported here last year, two major earthquakes on the 6th of February, one of 7.8 on the Richter scale at 4.17am and then another at 1.24pm local time registering 7.6, destroyed or badly damaged 300,000 homes and other buildings – 56,000 people were killed.

Both epicentres were located in southern Turkey. The strongest earthquakes to hit the Turkey since 1939. Significant shaking was felt over an area around 350,000 square kilometres (140,000 sq miles) – that’s larger than the combined land mass of UK and Ireland.  In the three months that followed, there were more than 30,000 aftershocks, including 570 in the first 24 hours. 

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography say this extraordinary activity was caused by an unlikely “cascade” of ruptures along existing fault lines, breaking through bends that would normally act as junctions.  The second earthquake was so strong because of a phenomenon called a “supershear rupture” which causes a sonic boom-like effect, amplifying its destructive power. As a result, these earthquakes were much bigger than any previous quakes along the same fault lines.

With destruction at this speed and scale the humanitarian needs have been and remain enormous.

As well as the fatalities, nearly 120,000 people were injured with an estimated 18 million people in immediate need of shelter from freezing winter conditions as well as food, clean water and urgent medical care.

A year on, more than three quarters of a million people are still living in temporary camps.  Even before this disaster Turkey hosted around 4 million refugees - the highest number in the world - predominantly from Syria, with nearly half of them in the worst affected by the earthquakes.

In the face of this extreme crisis, the 15 UK charities that make up the Disasters Emergency Committee immediately came together to launch a UK fundraising appeal.  Despite the continuing financial challenges of the cost-of-living crisis, the response from the Scottish and UK public was incredible.

The Appeal has now raised nearly £14 million here in Scotland, more than £158 million across the UK, the third largest sum donated in the 60-year history of the DEC.  With these funds the DEC’s 15 members were able to rapidly scale up their operations with local partners to deliver lifesaving assistance to the most vulnerable people who had lost loved ones, their homes and livelihoods.

More than 1 million people were helped in the first six months after the disaster and many more have been since with more assistance planned for at least another year.

Through freezing temperatures, flooding and extreme heat last summer, DEC charities have together provided close to a million people with access to safe drinking water, more than a quarter of a million with emergency food parcels or vouchers to buy food.  Tens of thousands more were given hygiene kits including soap and washing up liquid, toothpaste, toothbrushes as well as household items such as blankets, kitchen items and clothing. In addition, more than 40,000 people were given medical support with around 34,000 given mental health support.


The DEC’s Chief Executive Saleh Saeed has travelled to the region to see the impact of the appeal funds and has been full of praise for the public.

“To see the difference so many individual donations have made to people’s lives is simply incredible - in many cases that support has been lifesaving. I know recovery from an event of this scale will take time but with the support from people across Scotland and the UK, the DEC’s member charities can continue to help so many families regain their independence once more as they rebuild their lives.”

Remaining DEC funds will now be used to provide direct cash payments and vouchers, now often the most effective and dignified way to provide humanitarian support as it gives people and their families choice on what they most need, there will also be an increased emphasis on rebuilding people’s livelihoods to enable them to support themselves as well as continuing healthcare.

The Head of Oxfam in Scotland Jamie Livingstone said the scale of the challenge facing DEC member charities was enormous, but so too was the Scottish public’s response.

“We’re grateful to the Scottish Government and everyone else here who put their hands in their pockets to give what they could to help save lives.  A year on, with many families still living in tents or shipping containers, Scottish donations continue to support everyday life in camps, from repairing damaged water supplies to providing blankets and hygiene kits.

The earthquake lasted just seconds, but it will take years to recover, but thanks to the public’s generosity, communities in Turkey and Syria won’t have to walk that long journey alone.  In what can often feel like a fractured world, the people of Scotland have proven once again that compassion knows no borders; and that while we may be a small nation, we have a big heart.” 

The DEC is committed to ensure that the funds entrusted to its members by the public are spent effectively and transparently so has just published this DEC Turkey-Syria Appeal - Progress Report on its website