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Türkiye working hard to rebuild, improve quake-hit provinces: Altun

Türkiye is “working hard” to rebuild its southern provinces hit by powerful earthquakes last month and to heal victims’ wounds, the country’s communications director has said. 

“We are working hard to rebuild and improve all 11 provinces. Our state did not abandon its citizens in Van, Elazig or Izmir in the past. We will also stand with our brothers and sisters that were hurt by the ‘disaster of the century’,” Fahrettin Altun said at the closing session of a panel in Brussels on Monday.

“In this sense, we heal the wounds and reverse the damage to the region’s economic life, demographics, culture, historical heritage and environment,” Altun added at the event, titled Solidarity to Overcome Disaster and organised by the European Parliament. 

On February 6, the magnitude 7.7 and 7.6 quakes struck 11 provinces – Adana, Adiyaman, Diyarbakir, Elazig, Hatay, Gaziantep, Kahramanmaras, Kilis, Malatya, Osmaniye and Sanliurfa, and claimed the lives of more than 48,445 people. 

More than 13.5 million people in Türkiye have been affected by the devastating quakes, as well as many others in northern Syria. 

All means mobilised in Türkiye after powerful quakes – Erdogan

‘Difficult period’

Stressing that Türkiye was going through a “difficult period,” Altun said that though the earthquakes were centred in Kahramanmaras, all of Türkiye was shaken. 

“But even people with no ties to the region were deeply wounded. Despite the weight of this burden and the difficulty of this test, the Turkish state and people got back on their feet together,” he said.

With all its institutions and under the coordination of its disaster management agency AFAD, Türkiye launched rescue efforts and began addressing basic needs like food and shelter, added Altun. 

“At the same time, our friends abroad – including many European governments – answered Türkiye’s call. They made cash and in-kind donations as well as deployed their search-and-rescue teams to save many lives.” 

Altun underlined that it is among Türkiye’s priorities to build safe and permanent housing units for the survivors and to deliver these to them within a year as the country focuses on preparing for future disasters, including in Istanbul. 

“As Our President (Recep Tayyip Erdogan) said: ‘We are determined to make Türkiye the best prepared and most rapidly responding country in the world – with common reason, common conscience, common morals, and a common vision’,” he added. 

International aid 

Altun voiced appreciation to nations and people that stood with Türkiye in this difficult time. 

“Many countries sent rescue workers to Türkiye. They made cash and in-kind donations. They build field hospitals and mobile kitchens. Senior officials from many countries offered their condolences by phone or in person. 

“They visited our embassies to leave messages. Some countries hosted telethons to raise funds for earthquake relief. There is a beautiful Turkish proverb: ‘A true friend makes themselves known in difficult times’,” he added. 

Pandemics, wars and disasters have global impacts and a new model of international cooperation should be developed to stop them and heal the wounds, Altun stressed. 

EU’s earthquake fundraiser for Türkiye, Syria to be held on March 20

On an upcoming international EU donors’ conference in Brussels, Altun said: “We attach great importance to the upcoming donor conference by the European Commission. This event shall highlight the European states’ support to Türkiye and raise funds for long-term projects for earthquake survivors.” 

On March 20, the European Commission and the Swedish Presidency of the Council of the EU will host the conference to support the people in Türkiye and Syria affected by the recent devastating earthquakes. 

‘Disinformation threatens lives’ 

Altun said Türkiye had accredited 1,400 international media representatives to ensure that they could operate safely and comfortably after the earthquakes. 

He added that the Communications Directorate published bulletins to combat disinformation on social media platforms and responded directly to fake news. 

Turkish parliament passed a law to combat disinformation, Altun noted, stressing that many countries came to see disinformation as a “major threat” in recent years. 

“We have been trying to stop the systematic dissemination of fake news on social media. At the time, some people criticised Türkiye by hiding behind freedom of expression. 

Strong international solidarity gives strength to Türkiye – Cavusoglu

“Particularly, our European friends criticised Türkiye over a vital issue like the fight against disinformation but took very similar precautions themselves. 

“Naturally, that raised some questions. After the earthquakes, however, it became clear that disinformation threatens people’s lives and property, not just state security,” Altun said. 

International social media companies, particularly Twitter, had some shortcomings in the beginning, Altun said, adding that Türkiye had not received enough support from that platform initially. 

“But, after some meetings, the company began to pay attention to disinformation. We are now working closely with Twitter,” he said.

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