Relief On A Wing: Flying Supplies Into Earthquake-Stricken Türkiye

Relief On A Wing: Flying Supplies Into Earthquake-Stricken Türkiye
It was in the wee hours of the fateful morning of the 6th of February that the devastating earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale shook the earth in the region bordering Türkiye and Syria, and brought about a devastation that stunned the whole world. The epicentre of the earthquake was 37 km west–northwest of the city of Gaziantep. It jolted and caused catastrophic destruction in Antakya and Hatay province. Just within a few hours of the first earthquake, another tremor measuring 7.7 on the Richter scale struck again, centred about 95 kilometres from the first, causing more destruction and worsening the disaster situation even further.

Hundreds of buildings collapsed within minutes of the first tremor, thousands more cracked and ripped apart, trapping hundreds of thousands of people under them. Major highways heaved up from the ground and split apart, the earth swelled and burst open, making terrifying chasms, huge trees were uprooted and fell, and most of the infrastructure twisted and collapsed.

The earthquake occurred along a hundred kilometres of the Arabian-Anatolian fault line and wreaked havoc in about 350,000 sq km in eleven provinces of Türkiye, an area about the size of Germany. 14 million people or 16% of Türkiye's population were affected; millions became homeless. There were more than 10,000 aftershocks in the three weeks that followed the first jolt, which made staying inside any building impossible.

As the dust settled from fallen buildings after the first shock, there were apocalyptic scenes everywhere. There were thousands of dead and injured. Thousands more were missing, trapped under the rubble. Those that made it out alive were terrified, in deep shock, not knowing where they were and what they should do

The situation, without doubt, was beyond the capacity of any government in the world to handle. The shock of the disaster was crippling for everyone. In that impossible situation, the Turkish government called forth the army units, the Disaster and Emergency Management Agency (AFAD) and other aid agencies for emergency help. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called upon the world to come to the aid of Türkiye.

AFAD sprang into action and started the coordinated operation for disaster management. Its rescue and relief effort included a 60,000-strong search-and-rescue force, 5,000 health workers and 30,000 volunteers. Damaged roads, winter storms, and disruption to communications hampered the rescue and relief efforts, but the rescue operations were run without any break to save as many lives as possible, get medical help to the injured and get the survivors to safe places.

Along with the rescue and relief, AFAD also coordinated with and received hundreds of emergency response teams from all over the world that were arriving in Türkiye. Following Turkey's call for international help, more than 141,000 men and women and trained rescue dogs from 94 countries joined the rescue efforts there. This in itself was a massive task of receiving the teams, transporting them along with their heavy equipment to the affected areas and making all the necessary logistic arrangements for the disaster management operation but it was handled effectively.

The scale of the disaster as well as the damage it incurred was unprecedented. There were more than 57,000 confirmed deaths: 50,000 in Turkey and more than 7,200 in Syria. At least 13.5 million people and 4 million buildings were affected. About 345,000 apartments were destroyed. 164,000 buildings were either destroyed or severely damaged.

The top priority for the Türkiye government was to ensure shelter for the victims and make sure that they were safe. More than 2 million residents in the affected provinces were evacuated to nearby provinces including Mersin, Antalya, Mardin, Niğde and Konya.

The International Organization for Migration estimated about 2.7 million people were made homeless. A damage assessment by the Turkish government revealed at least 61,722 buildings had to be demolished including 11,900 in Gaziantep province, 10,900 in Hatay province, 10,800 in Kahramanmaraş province and 28,914 in Malatya province. Over 1.9 million people were rehoused in dormitories, guest houses, tents, hotels and containers.

AFAD issued a statement on 16 February, detailing that 387,000 tents had been established in the affected area by local and international organisations. 890,000 survivors were placed in dormitories and 50,000 in hotels. 1.6 million people were provided shelter and across the affected region, 162 container cities were established by AFAD.

The international community also contributed generously to Türkiye after the earthquake. The U.S. was the biggest donor and has pledged $185 million in response to the appeal by OCHA. Germany donated $108 million euros, Qatar donated 253 million Qatari Riyal as well as 10,000 mobile homes, the UAE sent 106 cargo planes carrying 3,000 tons of food, relief items and tents, Azerbaijan sent hundreds of rescue workers and canine units as an immediate response. The World Bank announced $1.78 billion in aid to Türkiye.

There were many heroes in the aftermath of the disaster, from the first day to date, who went beyond the call of duty to save the victims, provide relief and shelter and ensure the running of the complex disaster management but together their efforts succeeded in saving precious lives.

One of those heroes in the relief operation was Turkish Airlines under the leadership of its CEO Bilal Eksi, and its flight and ground crew – which became a tremendous force in transporting relief items to Türkiye from neighbouring Pakistan in the shortest possible time.

The Turkish airline cargo department in Pakistan under the supervision of the Regional Manager Cargo Jaffar Hussain was assigned the responsibility of transporting a large bulk of relief cargo from Pakistan to Türkiye in the emergency situation. The crew responded by making themselves available at all hours for the mission. From 21st February, sixteen special cargo flights were operated from Lahore carrying a staggering load of 1,300,000 kg of cargo including tents, generators and other essential relief goods to Türkiye.

The relief goods were mostly contributed by NDMA, IFRC, Al Khidmat Foundation and many other donors. It was no ordinary task receiving tons of cargo at the Allama Iqbal Airport, sorting, weighing, packing and loading them in the aircrafts, racing against the clock but it was done competently, without a hitch. The cargo was then flown to Türkiye, offloaded mostly at Adana airport and received by AFAD. The airplanes were then returned to Istanbul airport for the next mission.

The way this mission was handled expertly by the Turkish Airline flight and ground crew and AFAD staff during the emergency situation, made the tremendous task look almost easy but the people of Türkiye will always remember with pride how their national flag carrier played a dynamic role for saving lives and came out as a true hero. Hats off to the Turkish Airlines and their wonderful crew for being a true inspiration and for a job well done.