I felt a sense of relief on behalf of the earthquake-stricken victims in Van on learning that Turkey’s Foreign Ministry had requested aid from Israel (amongst others) in the form of temporary housing. They haven’t asked for help with manpower – search and rescue teams for which Israel is famous – but at least they have climbed down the tree of irrational national pride at a time of catastrophe.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry submitted an official request with Jerusalem for the transfer of mobile housing units. The request was transferred from the Turkish Foreign Ministry to the Israeli Embassy in Ankara, which immediately notified the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.
Turkey has been showered with offers of outside help since the quake, but at first only accepted help from neighbouring Iran, Bulgaria and Azerbaijan. However, a foreign ministry official said on Tuesday that it had now requested prefabricated housing and tents from more than 30 countries.
“Given the sensitive situation, this is a good step forward,” an Israeli official involved in the affair told Ynet. “In these situations you put all the problems and politics aside. We hope everything is carried out as planned,” he said.
Some residents of the earthquake-stricken region are furious at their government for not requesting aid quickly enough, yet were first on the spot to send unneeded aid to Gaza in the provocative flotilla.
“The prime minister runs for help when it’s Palestine or Somalia, sends ships to Palestine, almost goes into war with Israel for the sake of Palestinians, but he doesn’t move a muscle when it comes to his own people,” said Emrullah, an 18-year-old from Van.
“He rejects aid offers from around the world, but we need tents here,” Emrullah said before the announcement of the international request for help.
The critical shortage of housing has led to chaotic scenes and nasty fighting in Van and Erçis, as reported by Today’s Zaman:
Fighting broke out among Turkish earthquake survivors on Tuesday as homeless families scrambled for tents after enduring two nights of biting cold under whatever shelter they can find.
Complaints about poor tent distribution have been rife since Sunday’s quake destroyed thousands of homes and made many others uninhabitable, and anger among the destitute is being directed at Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Desperation boiled over in a crowd of around 200 people in the eastern city of Van on Tuesday. Fists flew and people shoved and pulled each other, trying to grab one of the tents which relief workers handed out from the back of a truck.
Survivors, many of whom have been forced to huddle round small fires in the open, accused Erdoğan of putting international diplomacy before his own citizens.
“There is absolutely no coordination, you have to step on people to get a tent. The Prime Minister should take care of his own people before going to Somalia and Libya,” said jobless 18-year-old Süleyman Akbulut.
Women in the crowd were hit and kicked as people tried to force their way through to get to the tents, while police tried in vain to establish order.
At first, Ankara accepted the offers only from neighbouring Iran, Bulgaria and Azerbaijan. However, a foreign ministry official said on Tuesday that it had now requested prefabricated housing and tents from more than 30 countries.
These included Israel, with which relations have been tense since Israel’s killing of nine Turks aboard a flotilla bound for the Palestinian enclave of Gaza last year.
A young man in his twenties complained that the tents were being sold at a nearby government shop for 200 lira, or around $110. He said the shop assistant was selling them to friends for a cheaper price and he decided against buying.
“Everything is so corrupt here, and the government claims people here have got everything. It’s a lie,” said the man, who declined to give his name.
In a similar vein, Mehmet Ali Birand, writing in Hurriyet Daily, talks about the looting, the “tent wars”, and the corruption that has led to bad building practice and lack of adherence to earthquake-proof building codes nationwide. This is a problem that leads to huge numbers of casualties in every earthquake – and those are plentiful in Turkey.
I could not believe what I saw. It wasn’t the first time it had happened but again I could not believe it. I saw hundreds of people looting a truck.
The truck driver was trying to run away, they didn’t let him. They were flying at him; they were snatching the tents from inside the truck. When they could not take the tents out, they started tearing down the canvas of the truck. Some acted alone; some made this advance as a family.
Neither the police nor the army could handle it.
When a tent was taken down from the truck, yet another fight started. The person dragging his tent was now under a different kind of attack. This time, others wanted to snatch the tent. Then, a total fight started. Actors were male, female, old and young – it made no difference.
A different kind of pillaging is going on in those buildings that have been evacuated due to damage or semi-demolished ones. Some people risk death and go inside to come out with valuables. I have seen women keeping guard at the door of their homes just to prevent this. They do not know what else to do. They are trying not to lose whatever is left.
Worse was that some civilians who were helping the rescue teams in rubble were also stealing. Some were caught; some ran away.
Societies show their real faces in times like this. I have watched it here. And I remembered the disciplined, dignified pose of the Japanese in disaster-hit Japan; all of them obeying every rule and giving the opportunity for other citizens also to receive aid. I was sad.
Whenever there was a quake up until now, we always encountered the same picture.
Bad buildings, buildings that are not resilient to earthquakes, apartment buildings erected without inspections, buildings built in high-risk zones, knowing that an earthquake will definitely hit, buildings built on river beds.
You can see it while wandering around the ruined buildings.
Whichever was leveled, when you ask the technical team that is conducting the search and rescue, the first answer is “Proper iron and cement that has to be used in such a building was not used.” They point out that municipalities have issued residence licenses at places where no residence must have been permitted.
Because we do not value human life, we do not care.
I find Mr. Birand’s words terribly sad and moving. Yet if Turkey can produce such brave journalists who are not afraid to highlight the shortcomings of their country’s leadership, there is yet hope that with enough pressure from the press and local citizens, the government might finally deal with the incompetence and corruption that seems so rife in Turkey.