June 2, 2023

SPARK’s Director visits Türkiye’s earthquake-affected provinces: Green and Inclusive Recovery

Meeting with chambers of commerce, university and NGO partners, SPARK’s Director of Programmes, Michel Richter, visited southeastern Türkiye to co-design inclusive and green post-earthquake recovery plans for the region.

The earthquakes in February this year affected 13 million people in the region, with over 50,000 people losing their lives in Türkiye, and leading to the displacement of a significant number of communities. Among the 11 earthquake-affected provinces, Hatay and Kahramanmaraş were the worst affected. 

Central to SPARK’s post-earthquake recovery response is supporting higher education, entrepreneurship and economic development partners to continue their operations. Their work is essential for rebuilding the lives, businesses and industries in the affected region. Michel Richter, SPARK’s Director of Programmes, recently visited some of SPARK’s local partners, including universities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and chambers of commerce, to gain insights into the main challenges they face three months after the devastating earthquake, as well as the solutions and opportunities they anticipate. Michel Richter, SPARK’s Director of Programmes, recently met with various key stakeholders, including universities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and chambers of commerce in the region.

During his visit, Michel had meetings with SPARK's partners including IACO, a Gaziantep-based NGO.
Michel Richter in conversation with Prof. Ifran Ersin Akıncı, Vice Rector at Kahramanmaraş Sütçü İmam University
The meeting at Kudra Organisation focused on providing business skills to earthquake-affected communities.
His visit concluded at Gaziantep Chamber of Commerce, a partner of SPARK in SME and entrepreneurship development.

Accommodation for affected communities

Academic institutions play a pivotal role in the region’s development and have a deep understanding of the challenges faced by local communities. In Kahramanmaraş, Sütçü İmam University has opened its campus to the earthquake victims. Currently, more than 20,000 people are staying on the campus. Due to the heavy damage inflicted by the earthquakes, many homeowners are prohibited from entering their homes. In an interview in March, Lütfü Savaş, Mayor of Hatay, stated that at least 80% of buildings in Antakya would be demolished as a result of the irreparable damage caused.

The university’s Vice-Rector, Prof. Dr. İrfan Ersin Akıncı, stated that since the first day of the earthquake, the university has been taking severe actions in earthquake response, such as providing accommodation, online education training for academics, and support for earthquake victim students.

Building back greener

Immediately after the earthquake we conducted a needs assessment for the SMEs in the region.  To address the needs for urgent recovery of the earthquake-affected provinces, SPARK is currently working on a ‘Resilient Recovery programme in Türkiye’ that aims to provide sustainable solutions such as supporting green and digital businesses to revive the economic activity in the region. Additionally, SPARK is advocating for a greener recovery and co-designing green development programmes in Türkiye together with European and Gulf donors. 

Local NGOs play a significant role in providing essential business skills to entrepreneurs and SMEs in the region. In the post-earthquake context, SPARK is working on ‘green’ recovery plans together with local NGOs such as KUDRA, Agricultural Cooperation Organisation (IACO), and Orange Organisation. Dr. Abdulsalam Hajhamed, Director at IACO expressed the organisation’s previous and upcoming eco-farming projects and discussed their impact on society.

“Reconstruction of the cities will be as green as possible,” said University of Gaziantep’s University Secretary General, Dr. Muhammet Musa Budak. The university has been generating its electricity from solar panels for years and plans to spread its sustainable energy policies to the whole city of Gaziantep.

Temporary online education

Hatay Mustafa Kemal University Department Head of Health, Culture, and Sports, Mustafa Tiyekli, stated that the university has been providing online education with the technical support of SPARK during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, both academics and students prefer face-to-face education now that the pandemic is over. The university is planning to have face-to-face teaching in the upcoming semester.

The Director of Graduate School, Dr. Emrah Cinkara, stated that the university has further projects to promote blended education and expressed gratitude to the SPARK team for providing servers to the university for online education.

Additionally, Tiyekli emphasised the need for psychological support when students and staff return to Antakya. Michel Richter highlighted SPARK’s joint efforts with universities in increasing social cohesion between Syrian and Turkish students in the region.

Restarting valuable SMEs

According to chambers of commerce throughout the region, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are struggling. Poor weather conditions over the winter months have made it difficult for people to stay in tents and, as such, many have relocated to other regions, which poses challenges for restarting economic activities. Restarting valuable SMEs According to chambers of commerce throughout the region, small and medium-sized enterprises). Estimates suggest that over 150,000 SMEs have been severely affected.  Meeting Hikmet Çinçin, the Head of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Antakya, Çinçin explained to Michel that the chamber plans to bring investors and SMEs back into the city to rebuild the economy and revive the city.

“The damage of the earthquake is devastating and it should not move out of the center of attention. In the aftermath of the earthquake, the reality is that there is an urgent need for early recovery activities for the most vulnerable, including women, children, local communities, SMEs and students. It is key that economic activity gets started again. Then, the green focus will eventually provide these businesses with an advantage over the long term, and serve the environment as well“, says Michel Richter.

SPARK is committed to supporting the recovery and development of the earthquake-affected regions in Türkiye. Through collaboration with academic institutions and chambers of commerce, the organisation demonstrates a holistic approach that combines academic research, economic empowerment, and environmental sustainability.

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