10/28/2011, 00.00
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Turkey: tragedy of quake survivors. Controversy over relief operations

by Geries Othman
Insufficient food and drinking water, and harsh living conditions of quake survivors. Winter has arrived in the affected area in the south east of the country, and many are forced to sleep outdoors. "We are all getting sick. We waited in line four days and still nothing. When it came our turn we were told it was all finished", says one woman.
Istanbul (AsiaNews) - The death toll from the earthquake that struck city of Van in eastern Turkey last Sunday, October 23, the has risen to 570 dead, 2555 injured, and 187 people were pulled alive from the rubble, including a boy of 13, was buried for 108 hours and saved overnight by the rescue teams who continue to work, despite the rain and snow that hinder the use of electrical equipment.

In the capital of the province Van, 1,750 meters above sea level, and Erciş, the city hardest hit, as well as in surrounding villages, the cold and frost is making life increasingly difficult for the thousands of displaced, left homeless after the collapse more than 2,200 buildings in the earthquake. 700 thousand people in the region of Van have been affected by the earthquake.

After Turkey finally decided to accept the support offered by some thirty countries, the United Nations sent thousands of tents to the displaced and even Russia has sent 37 tons of humanitarian aid. Israel also came forward despite the ongoing diplomatic crisis after Ankara expelled the ambassador of the Jewish state in September, given the latter's refusal to submit its official apology for the Israeli Navy killing of nine Turkish nationals on board the humanitarian ship Mavi Marmara en route to Gaza in May 2010.

The arrival of an Israeli plane carrying five prefabricated houses will hopefully be a positive development in relations between the two governments. "Three more planes loaded with aid will arrive in Turkey in the next two days," a source from the Israeli embassy in Ankara revealed. But the Jewish state is not the only "antagonist" to reach out: a cargo plane with 40 tons of aid, including tents and blankets is leaving Armenia, another sign of hope in relations between Ankara and Yerevan, interrupted for over a year because of the Turkish refusal to recognize the Armenian genocide and sealed borders between the two neighbours.

In the area hit by the earthquake a team of 150 people arrived from Azerbaijan are also at work, the first group of foreign workers to arrive in the region. Finally, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia has pledged 50 million dollars. Even within Turkey there is a great mobilization of winter clothing collection, underwear, diapers, baby food, mattresses, blankets, cleaning products, flour, heating equipment, clothing, blankets and food, both on the part of local associations of the national Caritas.

In addition to the cold, in fact, the emergency is the lack of food and water, which has already caused the first cases of dysentery and respiratory diseases. But despite the massive delivery of humanitarian aid throughout the Turkish province, controversy is still raging in Van over the delay in the distribution of aid.

The survivors of the earthquake are still desperately looking for tents and food, while there are fears that people may die because of the sharp drop in temperatures.

Some have chosen to desert refugee camps set up by the Red Crescent - overcrowded and insufficient to meet all needs - and return home, despite warnings that aftershocks could be fatal for the structures still standing.

In fact aftershocks are still a problem and yesterday there was a new strong quake in south-east Turkey, with its epicentre in Hakkari, bordering Iraq, in an area not far from that affected by the earthquake last Sunday. The quake, measuring 5.4 on the Richter scale, caused no damage or casualties, but fear is still great.

"We are all getting sick. We waited in line four days and still nothing. When it came our turn we were told it was all finished”, says Fetih Zengin, 38, whose home was heavily damaged Erciş, the city most affected by the earthquake on Sunday.

"We sleep under a piece of plastic that we hoisted on some wooden planks. We have 10 children in our family and they are getting sick. Everyone needs a tent, it is cold, there is snow. It’s a disaster'. Many now have even slept in the open air, around makeshift fires in tin cans, while temperatures fell below zero.

In recent days, seventeen Red Crescent trucks full of aid for the victims, were looted. "They are the looters that always take advantage every time there's an earthquake. They have even arrived here," said Ahmet Lutfi Aker Director of theTurkish aid organization, stressing that the thefts occured in Van and Erciş.

"I had no choice," explained a looter in Haaretz, , "two days ago I came from my village to get food for my family and I waited hours and hours to get something and in the end they gave me nothing and I decided to loot the truck. "

Thus, the greatest challenge remains coordinating the distribution of goods.

It must not be forgotten that the province of Van is one of the most difficult areas of the country where an endless conflict is still ongoing due to the fact that most people who live there are Kurds: Given the centuries-long disregard for the area and the resulting disinterest in investment by the government in Ankara, given the constant clashes and disagreements between the Turkish army and PKK militants, this is one of the poorest regions in terms of infrastructure and economy, and this definitely makes rescue efforts more difficult due to the almost total absence of primary structures and now the earthquake has worsened an already very dramatic and economically difficult situation.

Recently in fact, the Turkish army had stepped up its offensive against the PKK: It continued in the first days after the earthquake, as 10,000 soldiers were sent to the southeast border with Iraq, despite news of the earthquake, there were reports that the Turkish military had entered northern Iraq with tanks stepping up its campaign. Not even the earthquake has managed to create a truce between the two parties. Moreover triumphant reports continued to arrive and only after the army succeeded in killing over 350 guerrillas was the operation finally declared successfully over.

Another controversial issue involves the construction of buildings: In Van only 9% of the houses were built according to seismic criteria and only one of four houses nationwide are earthquake-proof, even though Turkey is a highly seismic zone. This has given rise to heated debate: The massive earthquake in 1999 which devastated Izmit and Istanbul has failed to serve as a lesson and houses continue to be built illegally, with sea sand and no safety standards. Yesterday a press release revealed that 9 million homes are at risk and will be demolished. Not only private houses but also public structures.

"Forgive us masters!" Headlined the daily Radikal days ago. One of the professional groups most affected by the earthquake was in fact teachers: 48 dead, 40 of which trapped under the rubble of schools built without complying with the main anti-seismic standards.

The government has now promised is to demolish the dangerous buildings and reconstruct at its own expense new anti-seismic and solid structures, but for now the people, disillusioned and grappling with the cold and hunger, find this hard to believe.

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See also
Earthquake in Turkey: 217 dead so far, more than 1000 victims feared
The international community aids the victims of the Sumatra earthquake
Earthquake in Turkey: a boy of 13 found alive under the rubble
Cyclone Nargis, pressure on the junta to accept international aid
Turkish police launch tear gas against earthquake victims


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