This is a message from Ismail Alabdullah from the White Helmets, a year after the devastating earthquake that hit Syria and Turkiye. The White Helmets efforts to help a community of over 4 million Syrians recover from the crisis are ongoing – chip in what you can to support them: www.whitehelmets.org
As a volunteer with the White Helmets since 2013, I thought I had experienced every horror possible from bombs to missile attacks, siege, and forced displacement. But when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit northwest Syria at 4:20 in the morning of February 6, 2023, I knew that we were facing a catastrophe unlike anything we’ve responded to before.From as early as 5 am that day, our White Helmets teams mobilized in the impacted towns and villages to pull lives from under mountains of rubble. We did what we could with our bare hands and limited vehicles and equipment, carried forward by the generosity of our local communities and people like you, our supporters around the world. We were able to save 2,950 lives and recover the bodies of 2,172 earthquake victims so that their families could give them dignified burials.
A year on and I still feel the pain of every life we lost on that day. The situation required a response far beyond our means. We needed heavy machinery, advanced technology, and specialized crews. We needed open borders to transfer those in critical conditions to get urgent medical care. Perhaps we could have saved ten more lives, even one more life. But instead, we were almost completely isolated from the outside world, and the international systems that had failed the Syrian people for over 12 years continued to fail us in the aftermath of the earthquake.
Beyond the immediate search for survivors, our teams conducted safety assessments on homes and public buildings, removed 442,000 cubic meters of rubble, enough to fill 177 Olympic-sized swimming pools, leveled 887,000 square meters of land, the size of 124 soccer pitches, including areas for camps and collective shelters for those displaced by the earthquake, reopened roads that are a vital lifeline for communities of 800,000 people, and rehabilitated water supplies and sewage networks.
Recovering from a disaster on this scale is a years-long process, but with your support, we are committed to helping our communities find stability in every way we can. Our rehabilitation work includes schools, universities, and medical centers. To address the long-term impact of the earthquake, we’ve expanded the services of our women-led centers to include physical therapy and psychological support, and we’re building new cancer treatment centers.
However, our efforts face ongoing challenges due to the Syrian regime’s relentless attacks on civilians. Since October, our teams have responded to attacks at a scale we haven’t seen since 2020, including attacks on schools, markets, farms, and the livelihoods that sustain communities. We’ve also responded to attacks using internationally prohibited weapons such as cluster explosives, incendiary weapons, and missiles carrying landmines. We need a serious international commitment to ensure civilians are protected so that the displaced can go back to their homes and kids can go to school without fear.
As we mark the anniversary of the tragic earthquake, I extend deep gratitude from myself and my teammates at the White Helmets. Your love and solidarity make everything we do possible.