The devastating earthquakes that hit Türkiye and Syria left an unimaginable death toll behind. Over 45,000 have died in Türkiye alone, while 5,914 lives were lost in Syria. The tremors have caused a massive displacement of people, with over 530,000 evacuees reported in Türkiye alone. Also, an estimated 173,000 buildings are destroyed or severely damaged.

In Türkiye, an estimated 1.9 million people are living in tents and temporary shelters. The situation in Syria is dire due to over five million people already being homeless, many already internally displaced after fleeing the civil war.

Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization’s Europe director, said relief workers were facing “the worst natural disaster in the region for a century,” adding that 26 million people need assistance across both countries.

The tragedy has triggered global efforts to provide much-needed aid. But getting it to Syria has been a challenge. The country’s instability, the geopolitical complexities caused by the civil war, and logistical issues caused by limited infrastructure and resources made it difficult for humanitarian organizations to provide effective aid.

Canadian relief organizations provided immediate assistance, including supplies, medical care, temporary housing and much-needed emotional support thanks to pre-existing partnerships and infrastructure in both regions.

Ottawa has responded with an initial matching of $10 million in donations to the Red Cross and another $10 million matched with the humanitarian coalition, while also fast-tracking permanent residency and refugee applications of individuals affected.

But Canada is providing less aid to the latest earthquake relief operations in Türkiye and Syria than it has previously. After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Canada offered nearly $220 million in matching donations to Canadian NGOs. After the 2004 Indonesia tsunami, Canada pledged $425 million over five years for relief, reconstruction and long-term development.

It's crucial that creative approaches be taken to rebuilding homes to ensure they can withstand earthquakes to aid the long-term recovery of families in Türkiye and Syria, writes Mahmuda Khan @HCICanada @HCICanada #EarthquakeInTurkey #SyriaEarthquake

Survivors are struggling to find shelter because humanitarian groups can't keep up with the number of victims. There are over 226,000 pregnant women in Türkiye and 130,000 in Syria, with 38,800 expected to deliver in the next month.

Türkiye has promised to help rebuild homes in its impacted region, but many Syrian families are left wondering whether they will ever be able to return home. To ensure these people have a safe place to live, Canada can play an important role in the long-term rebuilding of homes in Syria.

It is crucial that creative approaches be taken to rebuilding homes to ensure they can withstand earthquakes to aid the long-term recovery of families in Türkiye and Syria. This not only helps save lives in the future but also gives people a sense of safety so they don’t have to live in fear. Building earthquake-resistant homes saves lives. This is evident when looking at earthquake-related mortality in Japan and Chile, both of which are frequently struck by earthquakes of similar magnitude to those in Türkiye and Syria. Death tolls have dropped dramatically as a result of increased funding for earthquake-proof construction and the tight enforcement of building regulations.

But it's not just about putting up new buildings; it's also about revitalizing entire communities by providing public health, education, water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure. Both academic studies and international relief organizations have come to realize that providing shelter to people forced to relocate due to a disaster or armed conflict is not sufficient. Beneficiaries require assistance in reestablishing a stable income and participation in community-led activities and projects to ensure their successful social integration into their new communities.

The people affected by these disasters require resettlement strategies that are both comprehensive and innovative if they are to move forward from crisis to sustainability. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs' (OHCA) recently released 2023-2026 strategic plan, the first of OHCA's six transformational priorities for humanitarian aid delivery is a coherent response that is people-centred, context-specific and contributes to community resilience in the face of the challenges faced by the humanitarian community.

As an example of a coherent response for resettlement, Human Concern International is building a self-sufficient village for Syrian families displaced by the civil war. The village's 500 homes will provide a new start for 3,500 people, but it will also include hospitals, schools, parks and other facilities. As a next step for aiding earthquake survivors, the Canadian government should look to humanitarian rebuilding projects like these.

On my recent trip to Türkiye, I was heartened to see numerous Canadian relief organizations working on the ground, flying our flag with pride as they provided aid to thousands of victims with funds donated by Canadians. The efforts of these organizations and others from around the world have been recognized as an important part of the way forward. The Turkish Ministry of Interior's Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) has invited international humanitarian organizations later this month to develop a co-ordinated strategy for rebuilding quake-devastated regions.

But here at home, there is so much more that could be done with better co-ordination and collaboration from the government of Canada. Beyond matching monetary donations for emergency aid, Canada should play a larger role in international disaster relief, including investing in creative solutions developed by Canadian relief organizations with a track record of success in disaster-affected areas.

Ten national Canadian humanitarian aid charities have issued a joint statement urging the Canadian government to take immediate action in increasing aid to Türkiye and Syria, highlighting the urgency of the situation, the dire conditions faced by millions of people in the region and their lack of basic necessities. The charities stressed that the Canadian government's promised aid falls short of the actual needs on the ground and that additional funding is required to ensure life-saving support reaches those who need it most.

Providing long-term and sustainable support to survivors in Syria and Türkiye is a monumental challenge, but the Canadian government, in collaboration with Canadian humanitarian organizations, has an opportunity to take the lead in the international community in making the transition from immediate relief to more permanent solutions for the victims of these earthquakes.

Mahmuda Khan is the executive director of Human Concern International (HCI), the oldest Muslim international relief charity in Canada.