TURKEY: ‘It is just not possible to respond to such a large-scale disaster effectively without civil society’

Gözde Kazaz 1 1CIVICUS speaks with Gözde Kazaz, Communications Officer at Support to Life, about the way Turkish civil society has responded to the recent earthquakes and the support it needs to provide an effective emergency response.

Support to Life is an independent humanitarian civil society organisation (CSO) that helps disaster-affected communities meet their basic needs and advance their rights by providing emergency assistance, refugee support, child protection and capacity building. Founded in 2005, it adheres to the principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence and accountability in delivering aid.

What damage have the recent earthquakes caused, and what has been the Turkish government’s response?

The recent earthquakes affected 11 Turkish cities encompassing nearly 15 million people. This means the disaster affected roughly one in five people in Turkey. As of today, causalities have surpassed 44,000.

In a disaster of such magnitude, public institutions had a problem in meeting needs and establishing coordination among the various state agencies involved. This was particularly the case in the first 72 hours, when search and rescue efforts are of the most vital importance. One of the reasons for this may be that infrastructure in the region was badly damaged and communication lines were cut off. The sites and staff of public institutions were themselves also affected.  We are currently seeing some improvements in coordination, but meeting the emerging needs in this vast disaster area is still very difficult. It is of great importance that the state, private sector and civil society work together on the basis of a healthy division of labour.

How has civil society responded?

Many CSOs that have useful expertise and work on disasters, Support to Life included, came together to form the Turkish Local NGO Humanitarian Forum (TIF) to coordinate delivery of aid and help meet the enormous needs we see in the field. Dividing responsibilities for various response areas according to each one’s expertise was an effective way to avoid duplication and deploy resources effectively.

In addition, another coalition, the Disaster Platform, is active in the response. It is just not possible to respond to such a large-scale disaster effectively without civil society, and particularly without grassroots organisations active at the local level.

Responding to disasters is one of the main things Support to Life does, so our emergency aid teams arrived in Hatay, one of the most affected provinces, right after the earthquakes hit on 6 February. We immediately deployed a humanitarian aid operation in the cities of Adana, Diyarbakır, Şanlıurfa, and particularly in Hatay. Soon after, we expanded towards Adıyaman and Kahramanmaraş.

We worked with partners to conduct needs assessments in affected areas, which we continue to carry out on an ongoing basis in order to monitor the response. Since the outset, the Greenpeace Mediterranean and Amnesty International call centre teams were particularly helpful in enabling the general due diligence and rapid needs assessment required in disaster-affected rural areas.

We have focused much of our efforts on WASH – water, sanitation and hygiene – by working to establish water and sanitation infrastructure in temporary shelters. We have also prioritised shelter, food security and the provision of mental health and psychosocial support.

What reception have you had from the government?

As a CSO working in the field, we have not encountered any government-imposed restriction. We have permission from the Ministry of Family and Social Services to deliver mental health and psychosocial support services in the disaster area. We provide WASH services in tent areas established and maintained by the Ministry of the Interior’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority. We participate in coordination meetings with local authorities. In other words, we have a collaborative relationship and we at least have not faced any obstacles when doing our work.

What role is international solidarity and support playing in responding to the emergency?

This disaster once again showed the importance of international solidarity and international support channelled through both government and civil society. Responding to a disaster of this magnitude is only possible if there is a great deal of international solidarity that translates into resources.

Ten days after the earthquake, the United Nations (UN) Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) launched a three-month flash appeal for US$1 billion for Turkey, aimed at supporting the government-led response and enabling humanitarian agencies to help more than five million people affected by the disaster. As of 27 February, barely seven per cent of the US$1 billion of the flash appeal, roughly US$73 million, has materialised.

TIF formed immediately after the UN appeal and has since played an important role in coordinating civil society humanitarian efforts and helping local CSOs access resources, including by engaging with the OCHA system. Support to Life regularly attends strategic meetings under the coordination of OCHA, representing TIF.

But three weeks on from the earthquake, serious humanitarian needs remain in the most severely affected areas, especially emergency shelter, WASH, food and non-food items such as plastic sheeting, cooking sets, blankets, jerry cans, sleeping mats and sanitary items. 

What further support do Turkish CSOs need to keep doing this work?

What Turkish CSOs working to respond to the disaster need right now is as much financial support as they can get.

Humanitarian CSOs working in the field, Support to Life included, have noted that this is not a one-off or short-term but a continuous, long-term situation. We need to think about recovery, which will require lots of resources. This means a lot more financial support will be needed.

As an independent humanitarian CSO, Support to Life carries out its operations with funding that comes mostly from international donors such as UN agencies including UNICEF – the UN Children’s Fund – and UNHCR – the UN Refugee Agency – and the Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, the Danish Refugee Council, Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe – a German faith-based humanitarian assistance agency – Save The Children and Terre des Hommes, among others. We are working with our donors to revise our ongoing projects so that we can redirect resources towards disaster response.

 Civic space in Turkey is rated ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

Get in touch with Support to Life through its website, Instagram or Facebook page, and follow @Support2Life on Twitter.