Give now to support immediate humanitarian needs but also invest in long-term recovery. This was a recurring message from panelists in a webinar hosted by the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP), A Layered Disaster: Supporting Long-term Recovery in Turkey and Syria

Alex Gray, CDP’s director of international funds, moderated the webinar. Panelists included Alex Mahoney, deputy director for the Office of Middle East, North Africa, and Europe at the USAID Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance; Jason Lacsamana, director of programs and partnerships from the St. Joseph Community Partnership Fund; Sema Genel Karaosmanoğlu, director of Hayata Destek Derneği/Support to Life; and Thomas Debass, managing director of the Office of Global Partnerships at the U.S. Department of State

A Layered and Complex Disaster

The magnitude 7.8 earthquake devastated southern Turkey and northern Syria in a region already destabilized by a more than 10-year-old Syrian conflict. Before the quake, more than four million people in northwest Syria, primarily women and children, required humanitarian assistance. 

Genel Karaosmanoğlu said there is “massive trauma” in the affected area and, having responded to Turkey’s 1999 earthquake, found this year’s disaster bigger. In southeast Turkey, Genel Karaosmanoğlu said the large refugee population there was already hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, so the earthquake is a layered disaster due to the impact on marginalized groups and the scale. 

Invest Now and Later

While acknowledging the longing to put everything into the immediate response when we witness scenes of destruction and human suffering, Lacsamana encouraged donors to adopt a “Yes and” approach to their giving. This means “yes” to meeting the immediate needs as able “and” emphasizing long-term recovery. Lacsamana’s foundation has already made a few grants and knows they will also be making grants in the future. 

Debass applauded the philanthropic community, the Turkish and Syrian diaspora and the private sector in the U.S. for the generosity demonstrated thus far. For example, the U.S. private sector has mobilized nearly $60 million, according to Debass. Yet, this disaster’s needs will be greater than the U.S. government's available resources, and Debass encouraged the philanthropic community to step up and respond accordingly. 

Mahoney has observed a tendency to move on once shock over a disaster event had worn off even though needs remained. Given the devastation, both countries will need continuous attention from donors, especially as the world is grappling with other humanitarian crises. Mahoney said cash is best because it is “the most economical, efficient, and effective way to help the groups on the ground.” USAID’s Center for International Disaster Information website describes the benefits of cash donations in more detail. 

Fund Local Groups

Lacsamana said when they look at making disaster-related investments, the foundation does so through multiple lenses, including climate, equity, immediate response, long-term recovery, and localization. When there is a disaster of this scale, there are groups that CDP and others already vet, so trust those groups. 

Genel Karaosmanoğlu has seen community-based organizations stepping up already. Humanitarian funding is limited and needs to be complemented with existing local capacities and resources. In Turkey, there are Syrian refugee-led groups that can be depended upon and need investment.

Responding to an audience question regarding due diligence and identifying organizations to support, Gray said that for CDP, “we have a strong commitment to funding local organizations who are rooted in the communities they serve, and the majority of funds raised go to local humanitarian actors.” 

CDP maintains a pre-vetted list of organizations in the U.S. There is a streamlined and robust due diligence process for local actors based overseas. Grantmakers that are part of the Strengthening Local Humanitarian Leadership Philanthropic Collaborative provide support and share information. 

Watch the full webinar at the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.