Int’l aid starts to come in as Turkey recalculates assistance needed

A tent city is established in Van after Sunday’s quake, as Erdoğan called on the international community to help with the demand for shelter.

October 26, 2011, Wednesday/ 17:07:00

The first dispatches of international aid have arrived in eastern Turkey, as Turkish officials backtrack on their rejection of foreign help after being misinformed on the number of those in need of shelter in the affected area.

In the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s magnitude 7.2 earthquake that brought some 2,000 buildings to the ground in the eastern province of Van and neighboring towns, countries all over the world switched to emergency mode, waiting to send their best search and rescue teams and offered to send cash aid and supplies to Turkey, but were met with rejection. Although Turkish officials said they were grateful for the offers of help and appreciated the philanthropy, they kindly turned down the aid after the number of tents and other means of shelter needed was underestimated by roughly one third of the actual required amount.

Turkey’s rejection also gave way to criticism in the international media, with reports suggesting that the country was giving more importance to national pride at a time when lives were at stake, a claim Turkey vehemently denied and said it needed to assess the damage before asking for help.

On Tuesday, Turkey finally announced it was ready to receive help from some 30 countries that had previously offered to contribute to relief efforts if the country requested.

Teams from Iran, Azerbaijan and Bulgaria are already in the country as they took initiative and rushed to the earthquake zone before Turkey gave the green light.

Among one of the first offers of help following the quake came from Israel, a long time ally with whom relations have soured after Turkey decided to downgrade diplomatic ties and halt military agreements -- developments that came following Israel’s refusal to apologize over the killing of nine peace activists on board an aid ship bound for Gaza in 2010 by Israeli commandoes.

The Israeli Defense Ministry has already delivered seven units of portable houses after Turkey agreed to receive aid, as snow is forecast for Van, which will leave quake survivors defenseless against the biting cold that is sure to endanger their lives further if more temporary housing is not erected. However, since Turkey closed its air space to Israeli military planes in line with sanctions it introduced in early September, the housing units had to be carried on civilian planes, the NTV news agency reported on Wednesday.

Reporting that over 2,000 medical personnel and rescue teams had assembled in Van, the Israeli daily Haaretz on Wednesday noted that teams dispatched by Israel would work alongside teams from the Humanitarian Aid Foundation (İHH), which is regarded as a terrorist organization by Israel as it funded the Gaza-bound flotilla that was stopped by Israeli commandoes on high seas to protect the Israeli blockade over Gaza. However, Israel downplayed the effects their humanitarian aid might have on the warming up of relations between Turkey and Israel, with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman saying, “There is no mixing political-diplomatic relations and natural disasters,” and Ehud Shani, the director-general of Israel’s Defense Ministry noting that Israel was “putting things aside for a minute” to aid the country in distress, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

The EU is putting in place a mechanism to ensure that “all possibilities of support from the EU and EU member states are mobilized to respond to possible requests from the Turkish authorities,” a statement delivered by the EU Delegation in Turkey said on Wednesday. The EU will provide financial support, share satellite data to coordinate post-emergency efforts more efficiently and deliver logistical and material support to the country. “The focus will be on meeting the urgent need for shelter to help the affected population in the face of the difficult weather conditions prevailing in the area,” the statement noted.

Although the EU said the amount of financial aid to be donated to Turkey’s relief efforts and reconstructing the area would be made public once finalized, Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış estimated that the incoming EU help would be around 4 to 5 million euros, according to Anatolia on Wednesday. “We have met with European ambassadors in Ankara and decided to send 4-5 million euros from the EU’s funds to the region,” Bağış said on Tuesday.

International aid is expected to arrive in Erzurum, a province close to Van but safe from aftershocks and will be sent on to the affect areas, Anatolia reported.

Hundreds of aftershocks have sparked more fear among the public in the East who are already in distress following Sunday’s quake. Thousands have been spending the night outdoors in fear that damaged buildings could collapse due to more aftershocks. 

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