A woman mourns her relatives at a mass grave area following a major earthquake in Adıyaman, southeastern Türkiye, Feb. 11, 2023. (EPA Photo)

Türkiye’s recovery through lessons learned at quake-hit southeast

Türkiye will rebuild all disaster-hit areas, but there are many lessons to be learned vis-à-vis defending the cities against disasters

I was in Kahramanmaraş on the fourth day of the greatest disaster in the republic’s history.

Having survived the 1999 earthquake in Adapazarı, I was compelled to go to the affected area. On Thursday morning, I left Ankara by car with Okan Müderrisoğlu and two other colleagues. Driving down the Niğde-Adana expressway, we witnessed the Turkish people’s incredible solidarity. In addition to countless vehicles belonging to public agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), which were loaded with cranes and containers, the selflessness of thousands of civilians, who were carrying food items to the survivors, warmed our hearts.

It is one of our great nation’s many virtues to heal the wounds of people in need. In the district of Türkoğlu, we saw how effectively Tuncay Akkoyun, the governor of Karaman, was coordinating the relief efforts. Upon entering the district, we received some good news from him: Muhammed Şeyben, a local resident, had been pulled out of the rubble after 83 hours.

We also extended our gratitude to the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) search and rescue team from Izmir that had rescued a couple and their twin daughters the previous day.

Walking the streets of Kahramanmaraş, which the earthquake hit the hardest, we went over the disaster’s aftermath with Mayor Hayrettin Güngör and General Secretary Rüstem Keleş. We witnessed an intense effort that will certainly get the city back on its feet.

Türkiye will rebuild all disaster-struck areas over the next months, but there are many lessons to be learned vis-à-vis defending our cities against disasters.

Kılıçdaroğlu’s accusation

I expected the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairperson Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the main opposition leader, to accuse the government of mismanagement (in light of his response to past disasters). I assumed that he would target President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan directly within the next couple of days. At the very least, one would have hoped that Kılıçdaroğlu would respect the nation’s suffering and set aside partisanship.

Ultimately, it was saddening and hurtful that the CHP chairperson chose to make destructive statements while the entire nation joined forces to save lives: “Erdoğan is chiefly responsible for (what happened) and this government, which hasn’t prepared the country for this earthquake for 20 years. That is why I do not intend to meet with him. Nor do I see this issue as above politics.” Kılıçdaroğlu also dared the authorities to “come and arrest me” in an attempt to start a fight.

I use the word “fight” because that is how the main opposition leader himself describes it. He talks about “the people’s fight” but has no problem politicizing the nation’s solidarity by exploiting their pain and anger – instead of coordinating the response of CHP-controlled municipalities to address the pressing needs of survivors.

Kılıçdaroğlu made that choice due to the upcoming elections. He was worried that Erdoğan stood to benefit from the nation coming together in the wake of the latest earthquakes.

Fueling one’s election campaign with disasters may please some CHP hardliners. However, Kılıçdaroğlu’s ill-timed combativeness made him look like a severely reckless politician in the public eye. It also took a toll on his bid to govern Türkiye as the opposition’s potential presidential candidate.

Two days after the devastating earthquakes, Kılıçdaroğlu fell into the trap of partisanship during his attempt at politicking. Moreover, he radically distanced himself from the Nation Alliance’s initial statement. Even Ali Babacan, the Opposition Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) chairperson, engaged in more reasonable criticism in the quake zone and refrained from using the same combative language.

The government does not have to respond to Kılıçdaroğlu. The CHP chairperson is sabotaging his own plans with his combativeness.

[Daily Sabah, February 12 2023]

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