Experts answer: Why was Turkey unsuccessful in the earthquake response?

According to expert Kaptan, the reason is that AFAD’s readiness only on paper, with no practical equivalent on the field.

Following the earthquakes that hit Maras, all eyes were on the search and rescue teams and relief services. In the first week of the earthquake, significant problems were experienced with regard to both these groups. This situation caused the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) and the Turkish Red Crescent to Experts answer why the Red Crescent and AFAD were unsuccessful in this disaster, how much is allocated.


The history of Red Crescent, the first institution that comes to mind when relief organizations are mentioned, dates back to 1868. Named the Turkish Red Crescent Society in 1935, the organization was renamed the Turkish Red Crescent Foundation in 1947. It has been known as the Red Crescent since then. Though it is one of the foremost relief organizations in both its budget and its facilities, the Red Crescent has had a decreased presence on the ground in recent disasters.

According to the 2021 Foundation Declaration, the income of the Red Crescent in 2021 was 7,935,812,077.49 Turkish Liras. Its expenses were 7.889.524.626.79 Liras. According to the report of Grant Thornton, which conducted the 2021 financial audit of the Red Crescent, the total net book values ​​reported in tangible fixed assets and investment properties according to the consolidated financial statements of the association was 2,671,794,307 Turkish Liras. More than 10 thousand people work within the body of the association.


When one looks through the Red Crescent’s page on its role in national disaster management, one sees that the organization is tasked only with providing emergency meal services. The relevant statements are as follows: “The Turkish Red Crescent provides emergency meal services to disaster victims after natural disasters that occur in the country. With regard to emergency shelter, it plays an auxiliary role alongside the relevant institutions of the state.”

The Red Crescent’s definition is also compatible with AFAD regulations. When AFAD regulations are examined, the name of the Red Crescent Society is mentioned in the list of meal service providers. In other words, the activities of the Red Crescent during disasters are limited to the provision of emergency food and meal services. Well, is this stance appropriate?


According to Disaster Specialist Kubilay Kaptan, the limitation of the Red Crescent in this way is problematic in many regards. Noting that aid organizations such as the Red Crescent and the Red Cross have international accreditation, Kaptan says that the Red Crescent's field of ​​operation was deliberately restricted, and that this causes serious issues in the international community.

While noting that it is not appropriate to limit the duties of the Red Crescent to meal provision, Kaptan also points out that the organization has had problems in realizing even this goal during the latest earthquake. He adds that the Red Crescent's inability to provide aid in its own country, despite doing so in many countries abroad, raises important questions in the international community. Kaptan states that the new restrictions sacrifice the Red Crescent on the altar of politics and turn it into an organization that merely collects aid.


That being said, the Red Crescent is most active in tent production. The Red Crescent has three production facilities in Ankara, Malatya, and Erzincan. Even in just the Ankara facility, 250 tents per day can be produced. The working model of these sites is based on operating rules. They operate under the name of Red Crescent Tents and Textiles.

For example, in case of disasters, AFAD has their tents built in these facilities when necessary. This is the reason the tents seen in the earthquake zone bore the name AFAD on them, instead of Red Crescent, though this was not the case in the past.


The most important change regarding AFAD was the consolidation of disaster-related units of different ministries after the 1999 earthquake. Based on the Law No. 5902 enacted in 2009, the General Directorate of Civil Defense under the Ministry of Interior, the General Directorate of Disaster Affairs under the Ministry of Public Works and Settlement, and the General Directorate of Emergency Management of Turkey under the Prime Ministry, all of which worked in relation to natural disasters, were closed and their authorities and tasks were consolidated under the roof of the newly established Disaster and Emergency Management Authority operating under the Prime Ministry. With the transition to the Presidential government system in 2018, AFAD, with the Presidential Decree No. 4 published on July 15, 2018, became linked to the Ministry of Interior.

AFAD's name appears at every step, from relief services to donations, because the institution is structured as an umbrella organization. This situation is expressed on AFAD's website as follows: “The Disaster and Emergency Management Authority is the only authorized institution concerning disasters and emergencies. Based on the understanding that it is an umbrella institution, and according to the nature and size of the disaster and emergency, it conducts its activities in coordination with the Ministries of General Staff, Foreign Affairs, Health, Transport and Infrastructure, etc., and other non-governmental organizations.”

AFAD's budget is tied to the Ministry of Interior, and the amount allocated to the institution for 2023 is 8.1 billion liras. The number of personnel working in the institution is based on 2021 figures. According to this, AFAD has 7,081 employees including 699 people working at its headquarters.


The most important question for which an answer was sought during the earthquake was why AFAD tripped over itself and was unable to achieve efficiency. Disaster Specialist Kaptan answers this question by pointing to problems in AFAD's management and organizational skills from the time of its establishment to the present moment. In this regard, Kaptan draws attention to two important issues.

Kaptan describes this problem as follows: “AFAD emerged as a single umbrella institution due to coordination problems in the 1999 earthquake. Experts, including myself, thought that AFAD would step in in cases of crisis and disaster without being dependent on the government, and we supported this move so strongly because we assumed that it would be autonomous and independent from politics. However, over the years, AFAD was gradually tied to the government to the point that no traces of autonomy remain. Finally, in 2018, it was connected to the Ministry of Interior. In other words, it has become a sub-organization and has no autonomy.”

At this point, Kaptan attributes the reason for the ineffectiveness of AFAD, especially in earthquakes, to the gap between theory and practice, among the other factors outlined. Kaptan summarizes the situation as follows: “The very simple reason for its failure is to leave everything on paper and have nothing in practice; that is, to pretend constantly that something is done or to appear ready. In reality, they lack preparedness in application and on the ground.”


We have seen that AFAD personnel are hard at work in the earthquake-hit area. Kaptan draws attention to this situation and says that this is not right. Kaptan says, “One member of an AFAD rescue teams saves thousands, when necessary, but it is not right for these people to be worked without rest. AFAD experienced considerable problems in terms of both equipment and crew numbers.” Kaptan’s point is also made by AFAD regulations. According to the relevant rules, in cases that AFAD personnel must work on a 24/7 basis, they must be on shifts. It is not appropriate in terms of the regulations for the personnel and teams to be working 24 hours a day.

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