Local administrations "become surrogate governments" in disaster zone: Report
"The Turkish government's difficulties managing the aftermath of last month's earthquakes have presented an awkward situation for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan" while "some of his biggest rivals are helping to fill the gaps in the state's response," The Wall Street Journal's Jared Malsin and Elvan Kivilcim said on Saturday.
Aid groups, political parties and opposition-run local administrations "have become surrogate governments" in quake hit areas, and they hand out food and clothing, set up makeshift medical centers, collect garbage, fight fires and repair roads in cities that so far have received little aid from the central government, Malsin and Kivilcim observed.
“We are the main actor doing all the work,” they cited Remzi Albayrak, the Istanbul fire chief, who rushed to the disaster zone after the earthquakes on 6 February, and was joined by hundreds of firetrucks, ambulances and rescue workers from the municipal administration of Istanbul.
"Istanbul's army of firefighters, police, doctors and volunteers are now the most visible signs of earthquake relief in Turkey’s southern Hatay province, which was reduced to a wasteland of rubble," the reporters said, adding:
"Mr. Albayrak calls himself the 'shadow mayor of Hatay,' leading the aid operation from a mobile command center in Antakya."
The report continue with a prediction on the situation's possible impact on politics:
"The collapse of vital state services and the rise of relief efforts independent of the government are a test for Mr. Erdogan, who for years has sought to centralize power and whose handling of the earthquake response is becoming a vulnerability in a presidential election expected in May (...) It isn't unusual for NGOs and local governments to help with aid and recovery efforts after natural disasters. But the role of the opposition-controlled Istanbul city government in the disaster response is a dilemma for Mr. Erdogan, who has remade the Turkish state during his 20 years in power, concentrating political influence around the presidency and sidelining local institutions."
Underlining that "the opposition won control of Istanbul in the 2019 local election was a rebuke to president Erdogan and breathed new life into efforts to unseat him," the reporters noted:
"Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu is now a vice-presidential candidate on the ticket challenging Mr. Erdogan in the May election."
As for the relief efforts in Hatay, they said:
"The Istanbul municipality has stepped in to help run the province after key state institutions such as hospitals, communications and police broke down during the earthquakes. Residents were on their own to dig through the ruins of their homes in a desperate search for loved ones for about two days after the disaster. The Istanbul municipality's aid operation is based in a tent encampment in the shadow of a damaged shopping mall in central Antakya. Hundreds of volunteers and municipal officials unload truckloads of supplies, tend to the sick and serve meals. Officials wearing the blue vests of the Istanbul municipal police mingle among them. Firetrucks, ambulances, oil tankers and a funeral-service vehicle rumble in and out of the compound."