Officials, locals highlight problems with distribution of relief packages

The immense flow of packages of aid supplies, including winter clothes, blankets, catalytic heaters, personal hygiene products and tents, sent from around the country continued to arrive on Wednesday in the eastern city of Van, which was hit by a powerful earthquake on Sunday that killed at least 461 people, but there were problems with the distribution of the supplies, both officials and volunteers working in the area have said.

Hundreds of earthquake victims rendered homeless by the earthquake wait in line for meals distributed by Kızılay. Although hopes are diminishing, rescue teams are still searching for survivors among the rubble. (Photo: Zaman)

Hundreds of earthquake victims rendered homeless by the earthquake wait in line for meals distributed by Kızılay. Although hopes are diminishing, rescue teams are still searching for survivors among the rubble. (Photo: Zaman)

Hundreds of people formed long lines in front of the Van District Governor’s Office to be able to secure a tent for their families. On Tuesday there were reports of unidentified individuals climbing into aid trucks and taking some of the boxes. The district governor’s office is now registering earthquake victims according to their ID numbers. With the registrations, tents and other supplies will be distributed in an organized manner.

On Wednesday afternoon the Prime Ministry’s Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD) announced that the death toll following the earthquake had reached 471. AFAD said 1,650 people were injured in the magnitude 7.2 quake.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan acknowledged on Wednesday that his government had exhibited some failures in responding to Sunday’s earthquake on the first day of the disaster but criticized the media for accusing the government of being late in reaching out to quake victims. “I admit that we failed in the beginning, within the first 24 hours. But this is normal. This happens all around the world,” Erdoğan said during a meeting of his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) on Wednesday.

But he said the situation is now almost under control. “News agencies and television channels are distorting many things. There is no point in deceiving the public. I am telling you what has been done. TL 3 million was initially sent to the region. This amount has increased to TL 10 million today. The whole country has been united by the quake,” he said.

He added that the Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay) had sent 17,836 tents to the disaster area, which he said was more than enough for victims but could not be distributed equally due to a lack of coordination. Erdoğan said 60 prefabricated homes and 66,760 blankets had been sent to the disaster zone.

“Unfortunately, some circles are trying to use such situations for political gain. This is ugly. There is a state and a government that has been mobilized by this disaster. The state is there with all its institutions. Those who experienced the 1999 earthquake [in western Turkey] know that there was a government that failed to go to the earthquake zone. But now almost one-fourth of the Cabinet is there. They are planning what needs to be done and what will be done,” Erdoğan said.

He also said shoddy construction has contributed to the high death toll. The prime minister added that Turkey has not learned enough from past earthquakes of the danger of poorly constructed buildings. He also compared the actions of irresponsible construction companies to murder.

The prime minister also said that 63 of the 461 victims were teachers. Having stated in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake that Turkey could handle the disaster by itself, Erdoğan’s government put out requests on Tuesday to 30 countries, including Israel, for emergency materials, including prefabricated housing, tents and containers.

He also criticized the lack of coordination in aid distribution in spite of large amounts of supplies being sent to the disaster area. “The İstanbul Municipality can reach out to Van, the municipalities of Bursa, Ankara and Erzurum can reach out to Van, but the municipalities in that region fail to reach out to an area that is right next to them,” in apparent criticism of Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) municipalities. “Those who are able to organize people to throw stones at police and soldiers, vandalizing the streets, throwing Molotov cocktails, you see, are nowhere to be seen in the hour of disaster.”

Erciş, the worst hit district of the province, struggled with similar problems. Many quake victims there said coordination of distribution of supplies has been disorganized. Some people reported having seen people carrying four or five tents.

“The clamoring here has been going on for three days, and most of these people weren’t affected by the earthquake,” said Murat Akbaş, an Erciş resident, commenting on a disorderly crowd that gathered around a truck laden with tents at the Erciş Bus Terminal at 5 a.m., grabbing tents from the back of the truck on their own and taking them away before waiting for the start of the official distribution.

In Erciş, the Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay) was serving hot meals to the victims, but problems in tent distribution continued on Wednesday. Quake victims have spent a very cold night in the district and tried to keep warm by lighting fires on streets. Many in the district and nearby villages put together makeshift sheds due to the unavailability of tents. The only organization that sent tents to Erciş was Kızılay. Trucks have delivered dry foods and other supplies which are now in abundance, but no tents.

“Kızılay couldn’t pass this test with success,” said AK Party Deputy Chairman Hüseyin Çelik, commenting on the tent problem.

On Wednesday the line for tents in front of the Erciş Gendarmerie Command was two kilometers (1.2 miles) long. Some people were sent away without tents because they failed to register first at the District Governor’s Office, about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from the district center.

Officials said that tents were the most pressing supply needed in Erciş, especially this week, as the meteorology department announced snowfall was forecast for Van, starting Wednesday evening.

In other parts of the province there were complaints that no supplies at all were delivered to some villages and smaller towns. Reporters from the region quoted a large number of locals complaining about the delivery of supplies.

“We haven’t been able to get our voice heard by anyone in the past three days. We hear that many boxes have arrived, but we can’t get any of them. Not a single official has been to our village in the past three days. We have houses that have collapsed, we have bodies to bury, but we are waiting here for tents. Officials tell us to go register what our needs are, but we can’t even get inside the building,” Yahya İnan, head of the village of Çimen, was quoted by a Radikal reporter as he waited in Erciş along with many others from nearby villages to get tents.

Many villages in the province, including Kadirasker, Gedikdibi, Haydarbey, Salmanağa, Ulupınar and İşbaşı, have reported similar problems.

In related developments, on Tuesday there was an attempted robbery in an Erciş warehouse where blankets and tents were being stored. The would-be thieves ran into the building and shouted that there was immediate risk of flooding because a nearby dam had collapsed. Some of the security personnel at the warehouse ran out in panic after the false alarm, enabling the thieves to steal supplies. However, they were confronted by some of the guards who had stayed behind. Those individuals who had tried to steal blankets from the supplies, including medicine and food, ran back out, got into their cars and drove off. That they were going for the blankets is testament to the desperate situation the quake victims are in.

More tents, containers, blankets, sleeping bags, non perishable food items, catalytic heaters (with gas tubes), water and hygienic supplies are among the priority supplies still needed in the area according to AFAD.

Meanwhile, a statement released by the Office of the President on Tuesday declared that a reception scheduled for Oct. 29 to commemorate the founding of the Turkish Republic had been canceled out of respect for earthquake victims.




26 October 2011, Wednesday / İSMAİL AVCI, VAN