Natural disasters, wars, and economic collapse tend to seriously undermine social order and make it impossible to address even people’s most basic needs. During such periods, it becomes difficult for communities to feed themselves, find shelter, receive medical attention, relocate, and communicate with others. Individuals and communities have provided emergency assistance to such individuals, without expecting anything in return, to address basic needs like food, shelter, and medical treatment throughout history.
Humanitarian aid refers to all kinds of short-term or temporary assistance delivered to people in need until the government and other public institutions start providing long-term support or the situation returns to normal. The institutionalization of such assistance at the societal-national level occurred a long time ago. However, cross-border (or international) aid became institutionalized much later – in the second half of the 20th century. That mainly represented a response to humanitarian disasters caused by violent clashes or war. Initially, that process of institutionalization occurred through national institutions operating across borders in the form of international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The Red Cross and the Red Crescent, which fall into that category, began to emerge in the late 19th century.
In the 20th century, such organizations increasingly turned their attention to delivering humanitarian aid across borders in response to famines and natural disasters – in addition to armed conflicts. Especially in World War II’s aftermath, the number of NGOs increased rapidly to deliver international humanitarian aid. At the same time, a distinction was made between development assistance and emergency humanitarian aid in conceptual and operational terms, with the United Nations putting in place certain institutional mechanisms to address humanitarian needs swiftly and effectively.
Today, the core principles of humanitarian action include humanity, neutrality, and independence. The UN General Assembly officially identified those principles in 1991 and 2004. Furthermore, at least 492 aid organizations have signed the Disaster Relief Code of Conduct – which created a legal framework for such operations.
Türkiye’s Role in International Humanitarian Aid
The Turkish people have a strong tradition of humanitarian assistance rooted in their history, culture, and faith. In addition to the Turkish state, the country’s NGOs, including the Turkish Red Crescent, have been playing an important role in global humanitarian operations.
In line with the UN Security Council’s relevant resolutions, Türkiye facilitated the cross-border delivery of humanitarian aid by UN agencies to Syria until 2014. The country has continued to play that role since 2014.
Türkiye’s humanitarian operations reached a significant level within the context of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. In 2017, the country delivered approximately 50 tons of cholera medicine and medical supplies as well as flour, food, clothes, wheelchairs, and two field hospitals to Aden. Those supplies weighed 10,600 tons and were valued at $8.9 million.
Moreover, Türkiye’s humanitarian and development aid to Palestine from official sources and civil society have been significant. For example, the country started the construction of the Türkiye-Palestine Friendship Hospital in Gaza in 2017 and delivered the necessary equipment there in 2019.
Türkiye also provides emergency assistance to people in need during man-made crises and in the wake of natural disasters. The Southeast Asia earthquake of December 2004, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, the 2006 humanitarian crisis in Lebanon, the Gaza crisis that erupted in late 2008, the 2010 earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, the Pakistan floods of 2010, the Japan earthquake, the Philippines typhoon of 2010, the Balkan floods, the Gaza attacks of 2014, the 2015 Nepal earthquake and violent clashes in Iraq, the humanitarian crises in Yemen and Libya in 2015-2016, and the 2016 floods in Macedonia are among the major disasters after which Türkiye contributed to relief efforts.
According to the Global Humanitarian Assistance Report, which the UK-based Development Initiatives publishes annually, Türkiye became the world’s top donor with $8.399 billion worth of official contributions in 2018. The same year, it was designated the “most generous” nation by allocating 0.79 percent of its gross national product to official humanitarian assistance. In 2017, Türkiye contributed $8.07 billion – which amounted to 0.85 percent of its gross national product (GDP).
The Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2022, in turn, identified the United States as the world’s top humanitarian aid provider with $9.768 billion, with Türkiye claiming second place. Nonetheless, in gross national product terms, Türkiye ranked first globally with $5.587 billion.
Indeed, Türkiye’s annual humanitarian aid amounted to more than $7.3 billion annually between 2017 and 2020. In 2021, the country contributed approximately $6.7 billion. In contrast, Türkiye ranked third in 2013, 2014, and 2015 and second over the last two years.
It is important to recall that the Turkish government promoted international cooperation and solidarity amid the coronavirus pandemic, aiding communities around the world and delivering emergency and humanitarian aid to more than 150 countries.
Home to the largest number of asylum-seekers in the world, Türkiye remains one of the most generous nations in gross national product terms regarding development and humanitarian assistance. Furthermore, the country’s humanitarian assistance to Syrian asylum-seekers within its border was not taken into consideration by the Global Humanitarian Assistance Report.
International Assistance to Türkiye in Aftermath of Feb. 6 Earthquakes
In the wake of the Kahramanmaraş earthquakes, it became immediately clear that they had caused enough damage to warrant their description as the “disaster of the century.” As such, the Turkish government declared a Level IV emergency on the first day – which represented the highest level under the Türkiye Disaster Response Plan (TAMP) and entailed a call for international assistance.
Many countries answered that call without delay and offered to send search and rescue teams to Türkiye. It is possible to note that Azerbaijan, Israel, Mexico, the United States, and Greece were the first countries to deploy rescue workers to the disaster zone. Yet those nations represented but the tip of the iceberg, as the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs proceeded to announce that 82 countries had contributed rescue workers within the first week. Accordingly, the total number of foreign volunteers exceeded 9,000.
The variety of countries sending search-and-rescue teams was no less impressive than the total number of people involved in relief efforts. From the Americas, Argentina, Brazil, El Salvador, Canada, Mexico, and Venezuela, in addition to the United States, deployed volunteers to Türkiye. Meanwhile, Asian countries answering the Turkish government’s call for assistance, included Australia, Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, and Japan. Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan also contributed to relief efforts. Whereas Algeria, South Africa, Libya, and Sudan were among the African nations to assist Türkiye, contributions from the Middle East and the Arab world came from Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Palestine, Iraq, Israel, Iran, Qatar, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Jordan. Last but not least, the following European nations delivered assistance to the Turkish people: Germany, Albania, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Czechia, France, Finland, Croatia, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Iceland, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Moldova, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine, and Greece.
The European Union also responded to the major earthquakes in Türkiye by activating the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, which enables member states to respond to disasters and emergencies, and launching one of the most comprehensive search and rescue operations in the union’s history. Furthermore, the United Kingdom (which is not a member of the European Union or the Civil Protection Mechanism) was among many countries to deliver humanitarian assistance to Türkiye in response to the country’s call for assistance.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) also delivered a strong response to the “disaster of the century” in Türkiye, one of its key members. Accordingly, more than 3,500 rescue workers arrived in the disaster zone from NATO countries.
In addition to the need for search and rescue teams, the earthquakes caused serious and widespread devastation across 10 provinces, directly and deeply impacting the lives of 13 million people. Indeed, millions of survivors found themselves unable to address their most basic needs overnight. In this context, it is important to note that the international community made significant in-kind and cash donations to Türkiye in addition to deploying rescue workers.
Specifically, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the international community to deliver at least $1 billion worth of humanitarian assistance to Türkiye, which suffered one of the most devastating earthquakes on record. According to official data, the European Union has donated approximately 5.5 million euros to date. However, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, the EU’s rotating president, pledged to host a donors’ conference in cooperation with the Turkish authorities to mobilize the international community.
Furthermore, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that Washington delivered approximately $85 million worth of shelters, water, food, medicine, and clothing items in the disaster’s immediate aftermath and earmarked an additional $100 million to assist people in need.
In addition to international organizations, national governments made notable contributions to relief efforts in Türkiye. Accordingly, many countries made in-kind and/or cash donations to the Turkish authorities to help alleviate the suffering of earthquake survivors.
It was also noteworthy and striking that civilians in many places launched aid campaigns for Türkiye. For example, British organizations like Oxfam and the Red Cross collected donations, as Dutch broadcasters hosted a telethon to raise more than 90 million euros for the Turkish people. Moreover, the Azerbaijani Red Crescent launched a campaign called “I Stand with Türkiye.” There were similar campaigns in the United Arab Emirates, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Colombia, Kuwait, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Algeria, Afghanistan, Palestine, Uzbekistan, and countless other countries.
In the wake of the major earthquakes in Türkiye, the international community not only sent search and rescue teams and humanitarian aid to the disaster zone, but foreign officials also paid official visits and expressed solidarity with the Turkish people.
Specifically, Azerbaijan’s foreign minister, Jeyhun Bayramov, visited Türkiye on February 11, followed by Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias the next day. Whereas the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, visited the country on February 13, Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg arrived in Türkiye on February 16. The following day, Željko Komšić, the Croat member of the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina, visited the country. Finally, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the quake zone on February 19. Those officials stressed before, during, and after their visits that they stood with Türkiye. For example, Blinken stated that he wanted the Turkish people to know that the United States was on their side and would support them as long as necessary.
Stoltenberg, in turn, described what happened as the deadliest natural disaster to take place within the alliance’s borders and expressed solidarity with Türkiye, noting that he was mourning with the Turkish people.
In addition to the above-mentioned visits, foreign governments expressed their support by phone. Specifically, U.S. President Joe Biden called his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, on the first day to offer his condolences and support. Other foreign leaders, who spoke with the Turkish leader, included Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Greece’s Katerina Sakellaropoulou and Kyriakos Mitsotakis, President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron, Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Israeli President Isaac Herzog, President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud of Somalia and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali.
Humanitarian assistance has been an individual and communal activity throughout human history. Over the last century, however, it became institutionalized on the international level. As such, governments began to contribute to relief efforts, bilaterally and through international organizations, to transform international humanitarian aid into a structural and traditional issue. In this context, the activities of international NGOs, too, reached new levels.
Building on its society’s values, Türkiye emerged as a major provider of international humanitarian assistance over the last decade. In recent years, the country joined the world’s top three contributors of aid in terms of quantity and became a world leader in gross national product terms. During this period, the Turkish government delivered humanitarian assistance to many countries in different parts of the world, including Africa and the Far East.
It is important to note that some observers in Türkiye accused the Turkish government of providing “excessive” and “unnecessary” assistance to countries and communities that are geographically remote. At the same time, some observers argued that the country became isolated and alienated in the eyes of the international community, starting with the West, in recent years.
As mentioned above, however, the amount and variety of international support reaching Türkiye in the wake of the most recent earthquakes refuted such claims.
Indeed, the country received arguably unprecedented international support, including search and rescue teams, shelter, food, medical supplies, and cash donations, following the most devastating earthquakes in its history.
Even countries experiencing certain problems with Türkiye – such as Greece, the United States, Israel, France, and Armenia – exceeded expectations by providing a significant amount of assistance and support. That Russia and Ukraine, which remain engaged in all-out war, sent rescue workers and offered their condolences and support through their heads of state, too, was noteworthy. Indeed, many countries around the world provided concrete support or issued statements of support in the wake of the disaster in Türkiye.
The international community demonstrated its affinity for Türkiye and the Turkish people beyond the level of the state. In this sense, communities in many places launched spontaneous donation campaigns and expressed support, as international NGOs made a strong effort to assist the Turkish people.
Furthermore, international organizations like NATO, the European Union, and the Organization of Turkic States (OTS) – with which Türkiye maintains close relations – exceeded expectations by providing support and making statements. In addition to activating its internal assistance mechanisms, the European Union has been trying to generate more support. At the same time, NATO deployed a massive search and rescue team and pledged to provide additional assistance to Türkiye.
Another important point is that Türkiye received support and statements of solidarity from some countries and communities to which it has been sending humanitarian aid for years. In this regard, Palestine, Bangladesh, Somalia, and Afghanistan were particularly striking. As mentioned in the UN’s official statement, it was time for the world to help Türkiye, which hosts more asylum-seekers than any other country, generously supported its Syrian neighbors for years, and stood with people in need.
Those developments established that Türkiye’s humanitarian assistance to date was not “excessive” or “unnecessary” by any means. Likewise, they refuted the claim that Türkiye and the Turkish people did not have a distinguished position in the eyes of the international community.
In this article
- Abiy Ahmed Ali
- Antonio Guterres
- Antony Blinken
- Azerbaijan Foreign Minister
- Azerbaijani Red Crescent
- El Salvador
- Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani
- Emmanuel Macron
- Ethiopian Prime Minister
- EU Civil Protection Mechanism (EUCPM)
- European Commission President
- European Union (EU)
- February 6th 2023 Earthquakes
- Felix Tshisekedi
- French President
- Fumio Kishida
- Giorgia Meloni
- Global Humanitarian Assistance Report
- Greece President
- Greek Foreign Minister
- Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud
- Humane Aid
- Humanitarian Assistance
- Humanitarian Crisis
- International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
- International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC)
- Isaac Herzog
- Israeli President
- Italian Prime Minister
- Japan. Azerbaijan
- Japanese Prime Minister
- Jens Stoltenberg
- Jeyhun Bayramov
- Joe Biden
- Kassym-Jomart Tokayev
- Katerina Sakellaropoulou
- Kazakhstan’s President
- Kyriakos Mitsotakis
- Mohammed bin Salman (MBS)
- NATO Secretary General
- Nikos Dendias
- North Macedonia
- Organization of Turkic States (OTS)
- Oxfam International
- Pakistan Prime Minister
- Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
- Russian President
- Saudi Arabia
- Shahbaz Sharif
- South Africa
- South Korea
- Swedish Prime Minister
- The Disaster of Century
- Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD)
- Turkish Foreign Policy
- Turkish President
- Turkish Red Crescent
- Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC)
- Türkiye Disaster Response Plan (TAMP)
- Türkiye-Palestine Friendship Hospital Gaza
- Türkiye's Foreign Policy
- U.S. President
- U.S. Secretary of State
- Ukrainian President
- Ulf Kristersson
- UN Secretary General
- United Arab Emirates (UAE)
- United Kingdom (UK)
- United Nations General Assembly (UNGA)
- United Nations Security Council (UNSC)
- United States (US)
- Ursula von der Leyen
- US President
- Vladimir Putin
- Volodymyr Zelenskyy
- World War II
- Željko Komšić