The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has urged the world to contribute “as generously as possible” to an appeal for earthquake-hit Türkiye, saying the country has been a “very gracious” host to millions of refugees for years and now it is time to show it the same generosity.
“Türkiye has been an amazing host to millions of refugees. Perhaps one of the largest refugee populations around the globe is hosted by Türkiye,” Ramesh Rajasingham, the head and representative of OCHA Geneva and director of the coordination division, told Anadolu in an exclusive interview.
“Türkiye covers most of their expenses, which turns into billions and billions of dollars. So Türkiye has been a very gracious host and has opened its borders to refugees from conflict-affected countries like Syria,” said Rajasingham. “And I think now it’s time for us to also show generosity towards Türkiye and towards the people of Türkiye as they face this disaster, this very tragic event.”
“So I urge all donors from all over the world to contribute as generously as possible to the Türkiye appeal.”
Reminding that there will be a donors’ conference later this month in Brussels which will bring together donors for the Türkiye and Syria appeals, he said the appeal launched for Türkiye requests $1 billion for the first three-month operation.
United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) teams have been coordinating almost 50 urban search and rescue teams from around the world to save lives, but now we are at a stage that requires providing humanitarian assistance as hundreds of thousands of families no longer have homes, he said.
Recalling Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s remarks that over 200,000 buildings were destroyed or damaged by the twin earthquakes, Rajasingham underlined that finding shelter for those people and getting assistance for them — whether it is food or water, health assistance or tents — are the elements of a major humanity operation.
“Many lives have been saved, but at the same point, we have millions of people who have been left homeless by this disaster, and they need urgent assistance,” he added.
Under the UN umbrella of UNDAC and the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) alone, 49 international search and rescue teams from dozens of member states were deployed to the quake-hit zones in Türkiye, and over 73 countries and regions have participated in these operations, Rajasingham said.
“This is by far the biggest international search and rescue operation that the UN has coordinated,” he underlined.
Overall, the INSARAG teams saved around 300 lives during the earthquake, he said.
“That is the highest number of lives that we have saved in an international search and rescue operation.”
He also noted that during this coordination, they encountered many challenges due to disrupted or damaged roads and routes, winter conditions and hundreds of aftershocks. In addition, many responders, including UN staff and lots of staff belonging to Turkish responders, were directly affected by the earthquake, he said.
The Turkish disaster agency AFAD is “a leader when it comes to search and rescue,” Rajasingham said, adding the coordination between UN-coordinated teams and local authorities and teams was “excellent.”
He said AFAD is part of the INSARAG group and he worked “very closely” with AFAD when he spent over two years in Gaziantep on a cross-border operation.
“They are partners, so the collaboration was really outstanding and AFAD did an amazing job in its first response,” he said. “The Turkish authorities did an amazing job in providing leadership and opening up the space for all these other teams to come and work effectively.”
More than 47,900 people died in Türkiye in the 7.7 and 7.6-magnitude earthquakes on Feb. 6. The quakes, which were centered in the province of Kahramanmaras, affected more than 13 million people across 11 provinces, including Hatay, Adana, Gaziantep, Diyarbakir, Adiyaman, Malatya, Kilis, Osmaniye, Elazig and Sanliurfa.
Several countries in the region, including Syria and Lebanon, also felt the strong tremors that struck Türkiye in fewer than 10 hours.