Honeymoon After the Earthquake: CERF Responds to Earthquake Survivors in Van, Turkey

It is a chilly but sunny late November morning in the tent camp. Erdal Alban, 25, sips tea served by his wife, Tansu. They are living in a tent in the centre of Van, a city in south-east Turkey that was struck by a 7.2-magnitude earthquake in October 2011.

This is one of those rare moments when Tansu and Erdal have the tent to themselves, otherwise they have little room for privacy. They have a big family: Erdal’s three brothers, one of whom is married and has two children, live with them.

Tansu and Erdal were in the midst of their wedding ceremony in their garden when the earthquake struck. The happiest day of their lives turned into a fearful one.

“I was a little distracted,” Erdal says. “I was standing lightheartedly, just watching people dance. Then all of a sudden I felt a strong movement below our feet, which shook us terribly. Everybody panicked and ran in all directions just to get away from the buildings.”

They realized they were the lucky ones when they saw that the building right across the road where another wedding was being held collapsed and killed two people. Erdal and Tansu’s wedding party pulled themselves together to help people escape from the rubble.

Erdal’s family had erected a tent for the wedding, just in case it rained that day. That same tent provided shelter for their whole family for a few days following the earthquake.

“We had plenty of sun on that day,” Erdal remembers. “I was so happy that we didn’t need to use the tent. We could dance, chat and have fun outside in the garden. How could I know that I would spend my honeymoon in the tent with my extended family?”

Rapid support provided to families

The couple soon applied for a winterized tent through Government authorities. Two tents supplied by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) were provided by the Turkish Red Crescent in collaboration with Government authorities. With UNHCR assistance, supported by the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), 20,000 earthquake-affected people in eastern Turkey have received much-needed shelter during the cold winter months.

Life is difficult in the tent camp, but the Government and the Turkish Red Crescent are working hard to improve conditions. The camp population receives three meals a day and free electricity, and there is a day-care centre for Erdal’s nieces.

Mr. Hakki Ersoy, Manager of the Turkish Red Crescent Disaster Operations Centre, says the Turkish Red Crescent has distributed more than 52,000 tents, 3,800 prefabricated houses and 2,000 containers to provide shelter. It also serves three meals to 4,000 people each day.

“We received 2,000 winter tents and 40,000 blankets in a very short amount of time from UNHCR right after the earthquake,” Ersoy says. “I am thankful to the United Nations because of this support to earthquake victims.”

Tansu thinks they should consider leaving for another city, as nearly half of the city’s population has already done so. Yet Erdal is doubtful. “I was born here, I grew up here, I know people here. How will we build a new life in a city which is completely unknown to us?”

With the strong support of their family, community, Government and other partners, Erdal and Tansu resolved to stay.

The UN mobilizes and CERF responds

The United Nations system was quick to respond to the Government of Turkey’s request. Within six hours, the United Nations mobilized its support to the Government by providing tents and blankets, and thereafter participating in needs assessments with the Government in the lead. The United Nations Resident Coordinator in Turkey, Shahid Najam, says:

“We are working very closely with the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Family and Social Planning, the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Health to ensure that our response is geared to the most urgent needs, and is in synch with the Government’s efforts.”

In 2011, CERF provided more than $3.4 million in funding to United Nations agencies to support Government relief efforts in Turkey, with a focus on shelter, education and psychosocial support to earthquake victims.

Erdal and Tansu sip tea in the UNHCR tent supported by the CERF.  © Mustafa Azizoglu/UN CERF/UNOCHA