Urban Journalism Institute
Municipal Times Journal



How did your municipalities respond to the recent earthquake disaster?

As you know, on the 6th of February, we had a big earthquake in Türkiye. Since then, there have been more than 7,000 aftershocks. We lost approximately 40,000 citizens. We worked on two major lines, the Turkish Union of Municipalities, and the municipalities in the field. Since the first day, the Turkish government has a disaster fund in place. We tried to mobilise all municipalities to rescue victims. We called nearly 1,300 mayors of the Turkish Union of Municipalities, and they were already on their way to reach the earthquake area, while taking gadgets, cars, and trucks. Unfortunately, we had a coordination problem because we did not know who was going where, and it was unclear at the central level who was needed where.

Therefore, the Union of Turkish Municipalities created service groupings. For example, a city from the west of Türkiye was in charge of municipal services in the disaster region. The local municipalities tried their best, but they are also victims and some of the employees lost family members or they themselves did not survive this catastrophe. As a result. local municipalities had very limited opportunities to serve victims and operate at the same time.

Last week, I went to the affected area and I saw that the municipalities were very quick to act. You can clearly sense that the mayor of each region knows exactly what they are in charge of now. For example, in a few minutes, district mayors organised and distributed tasks. Someone said, “I will do the garbage for this area” and left the meeting, someone announced they would to the food, someone took care of the toilets, and everyone focused on what they do best. After ten minutes, the meeting was over and everybody executed their task, communicating what they needed.

I have seen an example from Kocaeli, a region bordering Istanbul, where they created shifts for employees from Kocaeli Metropolitan Municipality and its district municipalities to support the efforts. However, no one wanted to leave the area and thus Kocaeli created a support system on their own, hoping to be able to count on assistance to help people. It was ad hoc, but quick and responsive. While they were delivering services on the ground, the Turkish Union of Municipalities tried to keep communications running with the central government.

Sadly, the crisis not only affected this one region. One municipality that was not directly affected by the earthquake called me asking for food, meat, and bread. I told them I need to prioritise the affected regions first, but they told me everything from the earthquake region moved to their town as a safe zone, so they ran out of stock. Then I realised that the crisis expands to other cities too, not only in the affected region, but also in the places that people moved to. We had strong international support, from so many international organisations like UCLG and others, from all over the world. We see that many municipalities that border Türkiye directly sent health trucks, in terms of local diplomacy, this was very promising.

How can local governance be preserved in humanitarian crises? What are your recommendations?

What I consider first is that we need to have a broader scope of support for mayors. In my mayor’s resilience plan, if a disaster happens in my city, the neighbouring mayors will come and help me. In this crisis, everybody in the help plan was affected by the crisis. So there needs to be a wider plan, for regional crises as well, we need bigger plans and other partners.

We also need to take into account the victim psychology. For example, one mayor said to me, “Look, in our plan, we go down with the municipality truck if the crisis happens, we gather in one place, coordinate, and react. But what happened during this crisis, the earthquake, everybody in my city had to go from suburb X to suburb Y to check on family members. At five in the morning, we had so much traffic in the city, we could not move with our trucks, buses, or ambulances.” We had not considered that. Victim psychology is important to take into account, how the public will react in a crisis, how to organise crowd victim crises.

What can the Pact do in this kind of situation? What are your expectations? 

The first expectation, the reason we are here with members from UCLG MEWA, because it also happened in Syria, which is also a UCLG member, is that we realised the importance of working with international organisations as project and municipal experts. We realised that there will be needs, one year later, two years later, and changing needs. We will need to reboot local economies, plan cities in a more disasterresilient way. This requires financing, developing funds, credits, etc. The main aim of the UCLG Retreat for us is to cover our need in the short-, mid-, and long-term, thinking ahead to the next five years. We are also trying to coordinate the missing supplies that would contribute to supporting the needs of the municipalities in the region. The Retreat is a great opportunity in this regard as it convenes everybody. We have many quick and responsive meetings with United Nations organisations, with partners and with counterparts and stakeholders.

What are your expectations for the Retreat?

I want to develop strong proposals, talking with our partners. UCLG has always been a strong platform for the Turkish Union of Municipalities and for individual Turkish municipalities to talk with stakeholders. Our expectation from the Retreat is to develop proposals and concept notes for the region, to assist municipalities, and to bring recent developments at the global scale. We want to see reactions from the United Nations and the development financing organisations to better match the needs of the affected municipalities. We would like to bring that international knowledge in to the field. We keep having meeting after meeting and we will try to go back to the region with some solid proposals.