Plan International Australia Non Executive Director and WOB Cultural Diversity Committee member, Belinda Howell, said the charity is extremely concerned about the impact the disaster will have on children, particularly girls, and their families.
Plan International is part of the Emergency Action Alliance, a coalition of 15 Australian-based member charities and is also working with local partners to provide immediate life-saving supplies, including food and water, shelter and blankets, medicine, and menstrual hygiene kits.
“Plan International’s experience shows that children – especially girls – are most at risk following a disaster like an earthquake,” said Belinda. “They are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, particularly if separated from family, with girls more likely to experience forced marriage, sexual violence and poverty. As the charity for girls’ equality, Plan places the specific needs of girls and women at the forefront of its life-saving work in Syria, Turkiye and other disaster zones.”
Claire Braund, Executive Director of Women on Boards, said that when she heard about the plight of women and girls in the disaster-struck region, there was only one answer.
"The terrible scenes of devastation and hourly reports of rising death tolls are bad enough, but of possibly greater concern are fears for the survival and safety of so many vulnerable women and children in the aftermath. Any small contribution WOB can make is better than nothing," Claire said.
She confirmed that WOB will donate $500 to support affected children and their families and invites members to also contribute if they have not already done so.
Donations can be made to the Emergency Action Alliance - a coalition of 15 Australian-based member charities - via this appeal.
Children and their families sheltering in parts of north-west Syria devastated by two catastrophic earthquakes are in urgent need of food, water, blankets and sleeping bags, according to Plan International’s partner organisation, MECC, in Syria.
“Here there are a lot of elderly people and children, and they need everything like food and meals, blankets, sleeping bags,” said Safir Salim, Field Coordinator at MECC in Aleppo, Plan International’s partner organisation.
“We are in a church, and we have here around seven big rooms under the ground, with around 1500 people. Half an hour ago exactly we had another two tremors. Any extra moving makes the people so afraid.”
The affected region of North-west Syria and south-eastern Türkiye is now experiencing regular aftershocks and a harsh winter snowstorm, which is hampering rescue efforts and adding to the plight of those affected. Displaced families seeking refuge in schools, churches, mosques and other temporary shelters urgently need lifesaving supplies if they are to survive in an increasingly challenging environment.
“Search and rescue efforts must be the top priority, and life-saving medical assistance, food, clean water and sanitation, and blankets to beat freezing weather conditions are also top priorities in the initial hours and days,” said Unni Krishnan, Global Humanitarian Director, Plan International.
The toll of multiple crises
Plan International said it is extremely concerned about the toll that yet another crisis will take on children in the region, particularly girls and their families. With schools closed, providing shelter to those who have lost their homes, children are left without their usual support frameworks.
“Our experience shows that children, especially girls, women and the poorest families, are most at risk of exploitation in a disaster like an earthquake. Women and children in the disaster-zone will be at risk of exploitation and abuse, should they find themselves once again displaced. The protection and safety of children, particularly girls, must be a top priority.”
“Children are often the most vulnerable in earthquake settings,” said Krishnan. “Children who have lost their parents, young girls separated from family and friends and displaced from their homes, and children with transgender parents are often more vulnerable to bullying, abuse and exploitation. Relief efforts must place children, and the most vulnerable like displaced girls, first.”
Plan International is also concerned about the psychosocial impact on children. “The situation was devastating, children were scared,” said survivor, Mary, in Aleppo. “My son, for example, still can’t sleep and keeps asking me if something will break or fall. These long moments had a very big impact; fear, anxiety, we’re all very anxious and tired.”
Georgina’s story: “As we held our children, we had no hope of surviving.”
“We’re still in shock over what happened yesterday and haven’t fully understood it,” survivor Georgina told Plan International.
“We were asleep, then we woke up to things shaking and the sound of things breaking and rocks falling. We didn’t understand what was happening. We ran to the bathroom, then the second earthquake hit, and that was when we lost hope of surviving and started praying. I held my children and told them to pray because that was our only hope.
“When the second earthquake stopped, we ran outside in our pyjamas and without any shoes. We went outside, everyone was running, and as we reached the building’s entrance, a third earthquake hit. Everyone was on the streets; rain was pouring and it was very cold. The situation was devastating, children were scared.
“My son, for example, still can’t sleep and keeps asking me if something will break or fall. These long moments had a very big impact; fear, anxiety, we’re all very anxious and tired.
"We’re grateful, we’re all here now trying to comfort each other. We are hearing that bad things might happen, more earthquakes, but we’re trying to stay strong, but the situation was very devastating and very scary. The only thought we had was that we won’t survive this.
"As we held our children, we had no hope of surviving. Truly, I mean, what we lived and what others lived in these moments, other families, even the ones that didn’t survive, may they rest in peace, and thank God we survived, but during those moments, we lost hope.
"We held each other, praying, and saying our goodbye while silently looking at each other.”
How you can help
Donate to Emergency Action Alliance appeal: Turkey, Syria Earthquake • Emergency Action Alliance
“EAA is a coalition of 15 leading aid organisations in Australia (including Plan International) which mobilises when there is a disaster of a scale that requires an international response,” said Belinda Howell.
“It allows charities to pool their resources in appealing to the Australian public, rather than appearing to ‘compete’ with one another for donors’ funds. The centralised approach saves time, money and resources that the charities can use to carry out their work. Through EAA, funds can be allocated to where they are most needed at the different stages of the emergency.”