Towards More Civil and Comprehensive Humanitarian Aid

Ahmet Emin Dağ
Dr., Humanitarian Relief Foundation IHH Board Member

When assessing 2020 in terms of humanitarian relief, the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly been the dominant development. IHH established a COVID-19 commission after the pandemic reached Turkey and launched the “Now is Time for Solidarity” campaign to help those suffering from economic difficulties, distributing food packages to more than 100,000 families. 40,000 food packages were given during the month of Ramadan to health workers in a total of 31 hospitals (16 in İstanbul) and law enforcement officers working the streets. Nearly a thousand families were provided with shopping cards and cash support to 5,000 people; 14,000 hygiene packages were also distributed. A system was put in place to prevent overlap in the online application made to IHH and the lists created by governorships when curfews were implemented during the pandemic; a successful example of collaboration between public institutions and NGOs has been demonstrated in times of crisis by establishing joint volunteer distribution teams.

When looked at in terms of collaborations between public institutions and NGOs, the İzmir earthquake in October is another example of successful implementation regarding collaborations among humanitarian actors. Stepping into action from the first moments of the earthquake, IHH formed search and rescue teams from 33 provinces and sent them to the disaster area under AFAD’s coordination. In addition to the IHH search and rescue teams involved in rescuing may people from under the rubble, IHH distribution teams also distributed more than 16,000 food packages and more than 26,000 hygiene packages.

Non-governmental organizations’ being well-organized and quick to act alongside all institutions of state have been effective in the success of healing the wounds caused by the earthquake. Difficulties are sometimes observed due to the responsible persons in all service groups apart from some public service groups within the disaster management system being local authorities. Because the experience of disaster in one province cannot be carried over to another, the need for professionals in ever province increases. Because people working at lower levels in each province can interpret events differently, having the same professionals with increased disaster experience coordinate disaster control in different provinces is instead important.

Our disaster experiences last year showed Turkey’s National Disaster Response Plan (TAMP) is unknown by most non-governmental organizations. Despite all these experiences, every institution wants to work independently in the field, maintaining their old habits in disasters. 

All institutions, organizations, and associations should be informed before disasters in order to eliminate this deficiency. Informing the NGOs that will be assigned to search and rescue and humanitarian aid activities about how to act during a disaster is very important. Another matter in relation to TAMP is the need to establish a management group for all operations. This should be a team that will work together with the provincial service coordination group by organizing all solution partners’ disaster responses. In addition, NGOs and volunteer-management service groups should absolutely work actively in disaster areas.

We’ve also learned various lessons on logistics processes that are important components in disaster response. Determining and putting into operation the place or places where in-kind benefits will be stored and segregated in adjacent provinces in a way where aid will be formed locally before reaching the disaster site without creating workload is important. In major disasters, structuring to be established in provinces next to the district experiencing disaster have vital import in preventing relief supplies from forming uncontrolled stockpiles in disaster areas and unnecessary second-hand goods from turning into trash heaps.

In addition to the disasters within Turkey, the Syrian civil war occurring at our border was one of the prominent humanitarian relief issues to appear on last year’s agenda. The humanitarian tragedy in Syria, now in its 10th year, continues to produce new humanitarian crises every day. In 2020, significant progress was made on the Briquette Housing Project, one of the most important humanitarian projects that will stop the mass migration of Syrian refugees to Turkey. Thousands of Syrian families have been able to resume a life at minimum humane standards by building houses on the opposite side of the border with this project; in this context, more than 15,000 homes have been built, and thousands of families have been settled in permanent residences.

The past year has been one of new experiences gained from the many successful operations in humanitarian diplomacy. Continuing its peacekeeping mission in the region following the peace treaty between the Philippines government and the Moro Muslims, IHH has also increased it developmental aid in the region as a continuation of its peacebuilding efforts. In this context, many Moro students were brought to Turkey and directed to vocational education in different branches while beginning the construction of new hospitals and schools. In regard to humanitarian diplomacy, negotiations conducted on rescuing civilian prisoners in countries such as Libya, Lebanon, and Syria especially in hot crisis areas and on removing barriers to humanitarian relief in countries such as Yemen and Afghanistan as well as diplomatic efforts on ending the humanitarian crisis in Palestine have attracted attention. Efforts carried out to monitor the legal rights of many victimized civilians show the level of importance that has been reached by the capacity of Turkish civil society.

In addition to all these works, orphans have always been IHH’s constant priority. Providing periodic aid at different points in the year to 800,000 orphans in 120 countries, IHH plays a pioneering role in efforts in this field with its 38 orphanages, 1 children’s center, and dozens of schools in 13 countries.

All these activities carried out within the past year have been important in terms of showing how NGOs are able to create such broad opportunities in solving humanitarian crises. NGOs are a reality where strong countries can solve their problems more easily. In this respect, policies for strengthening non-governmental organizations as opposed to the understanding of doing everything through public institutions by hand will be much more useful in upcoming periods.

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