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Turkey launches worldwide hunt for tents to house quake survivors

Ankara is trying to replenish its tent inventory after hundreds of thousands remain without shelter following last week's twin earthquakes
A child runs amid tents at the Sumerevler Athletics Track, turned into a tent city for quake survivors on 16 February 2023 (Anadolu Agency)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

The Turkish government has launched a worldwide hunt for tents and shelters for earthquake survivors, after thousands continued to take refuge in shopping malls, stadiums and mosques after their homes were destroyed in last week's disaster.

"We are trying to procure everything we can all around the world and ask foreign governments to prioritise tent aid," a Turkish official with knowledge of the effort told Middle East Eye on Friday. 

'We can never let our citizens stay on the street'

- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

The Turkish government and dozens of aid groups have launched a massive relief effort for the survivors, with Ankara dispatching more than 5,400 shipping containers as shelters and tens of thousands of tents.

But across the huge earthquake zone in Turkey and Syria, millions have been rendered homeless, with many continuing to sleep in cars or mosques that have become makeshift shelters.

The official said that Ankara was also trying to rent large cargo planes to bring in some of the tents due to their large size and the need for big shipments.

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Another official told MEE that the country was in dire need of winter tents as temperatures continued to plunge below -5c in some of the quake-hit areas.

The freezing conditions have added to the risk of hypothermia for many survivors, especially those who could still be alive under the rubble.

Afad's inventory

A Turkish ruling party official told MEE that at least 1.5 million citizens had left the southern cities of Hatay, Adiyaman, and Malatya, cities which had a combined population of more than 11 million before the 6 February quake, according to the official statistics.

The perceived failure of the Turkish disaster management agency Afad and the Red Crescent to prepare for the disaster has been criticised by the country's main opposition party.

Seyit Torun, deputy chairman of the CHP, said Afad should have had at least 250,000 to 300,000 tents in its inventory.

"However Afad itself said in a statement in September 2019 that it doesn't even have 100,000 in its inventory," Torun said during a press statement last week. 

Torun claimed the agency didn't order the production of tents between 2020-2022 and only requisitioned 60,000 tents from the Red Crescent three months ago. 

A Turkish source familiar with Afad's inventory told MEE that the agency only had 170,000 tents before the quake.

Global tent shipments

Meanwhile, officials say that with Pakistan and China, the two largest tent producers in the world, authorities will focus their efforts to procure and ship more cargo from those countries. 

The Turkish ambassador to Beijing, Emin Onen, said in a public statement on Tuesday that nearly 6,000 tents had been dispatched to Turkey.

"We are planning to send 4,000 more winter tents in a few days and another 20,000 in a week," he said.

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 The officials say China also doesn’t have a large inventory ready to export and transporting the tents is a problem since a military cargo plane could only take 750 to 1,000 tents in one journey. 

Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said during a visit to Ankara on Thursday that the alliance would use "allied strategic airlift capabilities" to transport tens of thousands of tents to Turkey in the coming days and weeks. 

Several countries and organisations also rushed to help Turkey as the UN transported 3,000 tents, while Azerbaijan and Iran delivered 1,000 each. 

Pakistan's prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, also promised in an interview on Thursday that he would meet with his country's manufacturers and task them to produce winter tens "as quickly as possible with the highest quality". Pakistan had already sent thousands of tonnes of humanitarian aid but the number of tents isn't clear. 

In a speech close to the quake's epicentre last week, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged that the state would provide immediate help to the displaced.

Those whose homes were destroyed or who did not know if it was safe to return would be housed in hotels, he said. "We can never let our citizens stay on the street."

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