On the scene
The response of the Turkish Red Crescent was almost
immediate: 40,000 tents and tens of thousands of blankets and
sleeping bags were distributed; 35 mobile kitchens were opened
as well as two field clinics; planes were chartered to send
food to the most affected areas. In less than a week it
organized camp cities with water supplies, sanitation and
electricity for around 20,000 people.
Medical teams from the German, Norwegian and Spanish Red
Cross set up emergency hospital units. The Austrian Red Cross
installed a water purification unit. Even today assistance
continues to arrive from almost 50 sister societies.
The true magnitude of the disaster emerged in the midst of
this humanitarian hustle and bustle. With each death or
wounded accounted for, hopelessness and frustration grew, not
only among the victims, but also among the authorities,
institutions and the general public. "We were not
prepared to handle a disaster of this magnitude in an urban
area," stated Fatih Evren, director general of the
Turkish Red Crescent.
The efforts to bring assistance expanded daily as did the
criticism. The Turkish press was outspoken in its critique of
the government and institutions such as the Turkish Red
Crescent which has been active in disaster response at home
and abroad for many decades. The response seemed insufficient,
slow and the quality of aid did not correspond to the
expectations of the population.
"In times of war people know who the aggressor is and
who is responsible for the death of their relatives or the
destruction of their homes but this is not the case after a
natural disaster," explains Robert Sebaag, psychiatrist
and director of the international affairs department of the
French Red Cross. "At the outset, victims tend to blame
supernatural forces but a little later they start to look for
a culprit. It is often the case that, during relief operations
undertaken by National Societies, victims point a finger at
those in the front line who are giving assistance."
The lack of clarity and definition of the role and
responsibilities of each participant within the national
emergency plan no doubt contributed to exacerbate the
confusion and discontent. Moreover the scarce investment made
to prepare the population for a disaster of this magnitude was
a determining factor in the reaction of public opinion.
As Doug Allan, director of emergency operations of the
American Red Cross, says: "When we refer to disaster
preparedness we do not only mean relief supplies in warehouses
or more or less sophisticated systems of intervention
established by the different actors to respond to emergencies.
We refer mainly to the degree of awareness of the population
as a whole with regard to the risks to which it is exposed,
the measures to be taken in case of an emergency which consist
in taking responsibility during the initial response period
and, most importantly, knowing what is expected of the
government and humanitarian institutions."