Aid agency Goal has announced that 26 members of its staff have died in Turkey and Syria. Mary Van Lieshout, the charity’s deputy CEO, has spoken of efforts to determine the fate of other staff working in the region hit by two earthquakes earlier this week.
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin TD has expressed his condolences to staff at the aid agency.
Ms Van Lieshout told Newstalk Breakfast that Goal appreciated the support it has received from the people of Ireland and its political leadership. Goal has been working in the region for over 10 years, with staff spread throughout the area devastated by the earthquake.
Much like everyone else in northwest Syria and southeastern Turkey, many of its workers were woken in the middle of the night when the earthquake hit, she explained. “As we understand it, now 6,000 buildings have collapsed across Turkey and 2,000 in Syria. So for us in Goal, much of the week has been spent trying to really understand, to secure knowledge about where our colleagues were, to account for all of them,” she said.
“It’s been an ongoing effort for those who were identified quickly as being safe and well. They participated in trying to locate all of their colleagues. And it only emerged day by day really for us when we couldn’t account for someone and we would reach out to our teams on the ground in buildings, joining the search and rescue efforts.”
In some instances staff came across the remains of colleagues when helping in rescue efforts, said Ms Van Lieshout. “Every crisis is different in something like an earthquake. Not only do you have the collapse of buildings and infrastructure, but it becomes very difficult when telecommunications are down, when roads are down and airports are down because the need to help and serve and support communities requires the ability to travel to get commodities, to get services, to get supports to people.
“So in a crisis like this between two large earthquakes, followed by over 70 aftershocks over the course of 24 hours, people felt very unsafe about travelling to help and to even assess the needs and be able to return home or stay in buildings. It’s been a really difficult week.
“In spite of the heartbreak that we’re going through, we are on the ground. We’re already deeply involved in assessing food, non-food items, providing supports around shelter. So anyone who can support us, we deeply appreciate it. Funding at this time allows us to move very quickly and to be very relevant to communities that are on the edge because of the devastation. So funding right now really is important.”