Turkey and Syria earthquake: Co-ops mobilise to support those affected

It is estimated that over 13.5 million people have been affected by the disaster

Co-ops around the world are exploring ways to support those affected by the twin 7.8 and 7.7 earthquakes that struck Southern Turkey and Northern Syria on 7 February.

Nearly 25,000 buildings have collapsed or were badly damaged as a result of the quake, according to Turkish officials. As of 21 February, the confirmed death toll for Turkey and Syria had reached 47,000, with the number likely to continue growing over the coming days. It is estimated that over 13.5 million people have been affected by the disaster.

Nearly 25,000 buildings have collapsed (Photo credit: NeedsMap)

The exact damage to the co-operative movement including any life losses is yet to be determined as rescue operations continue.

The Federation of Agricultural Credit Cooperatives of Türkiye (Tarimkredi) was also quick to step in to support its members and communities.

“We are safe, but we are not well as millions of people have been affected. It is such a huge disaster affecting 10 provinces. The situation is very severe due to the harsh weather conditions, damaged/blocked roads and infrastructure, which makes it even harder for the aid materials to be dispatched to and the search and rescue teams to reach the quake-affected zones. As a result, it is a bit too early for us to evaluate the overall situation.

“As Agricultural Credit Cooperatives of Türkiye, we have more than 1,600 co-operatives all around the country; 150 co-operatives with 80,000 members are in these 10 provinces hit by the earthquakes, half of which have been damaged to the best of our knowledge. We can neither tell the exact number nor how much damage has been caused at the moment, though.

“We also have co-operative supermarkets selling co-op products. We sent 14 trucks filled with food and hygiene products working in collaboration with AFAD (the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority). We are working on a debt relief programme for our members,” said Burçak Akansel, corporate communications specialist at Tarimkredi.

Before sending 14 trucks to the region, Tarimkredi had started distributing goods from its warehouses in the disaster affected region, as an initial response to meet the needs of survivors. The co-op distributed 50-truck loads of products.

Another way in which it is helping those affecting is by raising money for the earthquake victims via its network of employees.

In addition, Gübretaş Maden, a mining company that is a subsidiary of the co-op, sent a team of miners trained in search and rescue operations to provide support and logistical assistance to the rescue teams in the disaster area.

“Last but not least, our co-operatives and personnel still do their best to serve our members by providing their basic needs such as animal feed free of charge. We are working on initiatives to postpone and restructure their debts, as well,” added Akansel.

Several Turkish co-operatives are currently fundraising to support those affected, including Genc Isi Kooperatif (Youth Deal Cooperative) in Izmir, Turkey, which was set up in 2015 to improve the access of youth and disadvantaged groups to employment, livelihoods and socio-economic rights.

The appeal launched by Youth Deal Cooperative

The co-op is inviting co-operators from around the world to donate and share their #Coops4TR aid appeal among their networks:

Youth Deal Cooperative asks donors to tell them their donation amount so that they can monitor and make their contribution visible via #coops4TR social media campaign. 

Photo credit NeedsMap co-op

Over the last three years the co-op has been working with partners in the earthquake-affected provinces including Gaziantep, Şanlıurfa, Hatay, Adıyaman.

“Fourteen per cent of co-operatives and 11% of co-operative members in Türkiye are in the 10 provinces affected by the earthquake,” said Berkin Şafak Şener, a member of the co-op. “Indeed, two of our members were planning to travel to Şanlıurfa to deliver training next week.

“Our co-operative is also a member of the New Generation Cooperatives Society which brings together co-operatives from the disaster-affected region. This massive disaster affects our members so deeply because the co-operative community in Türkiye is very well connected to each other and we collectively care for our communities.

“The initial news reveals that many fellow co-operators lost their lives, and many others seek shelter together with their families. They are deprived of basic human needs such as food, medicine, healthcare, water, sanitation and transport. The co-operative economy is inevitably deeply affected by this disaster. We plan to first do our best to facilitate the delivery of search, rescue and humanitarian assistance operations. In the medium term, we will support our fellow co-operators and local communities to recover and build back better. This is certainly easier said than done. Hence, we need international solidarity and help.”

The Coops4TR campaign hopes it can mobilise the global co-operative movement to help communities affected by the earthquake, added Şener.

“We, as the Youth Deal Cooperative, have always believed in ‘co-operation among co-operatives’ and established long-standing communication with international bodies such as the ICA Youth Committee, Young European Cooperators Network, US Federation of Worker Cooperatives, and many others,” he said. “We thus wanted to leverage these connections in order to provide more and better support to local NGOs, co-operatives and humanitarian organisations that work on the field as first-responders. We invite our fellow co-operators from around the world to donate and share this aid appeal among your networks. The Coops4TR campaign can evolve into an act of solidarity which can help local cooperatives recover and build back stronger.

“We received immediate response from the cooperative unions such as ICA, Cooperatives Europe, Democracy at Work Institute, Legacoop, Platform Cooperatives Consortium, Cooperatives UK. We also heard back from the co-operative Pangea Cooperative and Articolo 12 Cooperative from Italy, Supercoop from Germany. This is just a shortlist of responses we received within 24 hours after we started the Coops4TR campaign. These mean a lot to us and we really appreciate our fellow co-operators’ support.”

Needs Map Coop, a map-based data matching platform based on in-kind transfers that brings those in need and those who want to help together, and Inogar Coop, a social co-operative, are also helping on the ground by matching people who need shelter with available houses and distributing essential essential goods to those affected, among others.

Members of Inogar and Needs Map co-ops assisting with the relief efforts (photo credit: Inogar)

The two co-ops have set up a fundraising page to support relief and recovery efforts in the affected region. The funding will help the two co-ops meet the immediate needs of those affected by distributing food packages, winter clothes, heaters, blankets, sanitary products, clean water and medicine, among others.

Inogar and NeedsMap members joined the relief and recovery efforts (Photo credit: Inogar Coop)

Meanwhile, the UK’s Solidarity Economy Association is encouraging donations to support those affected in Northern Syria. Around 300,000 people have been displaced by the earthquake in Syria, among these rebel-held areas in the northwest.

“Solidarity Economy Association encourages people to donate to Heyva Sor (Kurdish Red Crescent) to support emergency response efforts as they are well placed to provide this support. We know that Heyva Sor will spend the money efficiently, quickly and effectively, with a bare minimum of overheads,” said SEA co-founder Colm Massey.

In the UK Co-operatives UK and co-operative retailers, including the Co-op Group, the Midcounties Co-op, Scotmid Co-op and Radstock Co-operative are promoting a fundraising appeal launched by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC). Customers and members can make online donations or donate by texting COOP to 70787.

Co-ops wishing to promote the appeal to their members, colleagues, and customers can contact Co-operatives UK for more details.

Co-ops in the UK are encouraging members to donate to DEC’s appeal

“We are calling for co-operatives from across the movement to back the appeal by asking colleagues, members and customers where possible to donate,” Co-operatives UK said in an email to members.

The International Co-operative Working Group (ICWG) is also in touch with co-operatives and co-operative organisations on the ground in Turkey and Syria to explore what support the UK movement might be able to offer in addition to the DEC Appeal.

Rose Marley, CEO of Co-operatives UK and chair of the ICWG, said: “The devastation of the earthquakes in southern Turkey and north west Syria is incomprehensible. We urge the co-operative movement to take collective action to support the DEC Appeal. It’s vital we get funds to people on the ground who can help those in need as quickly as possible. The ICWG is also in touch with co-operative networks in both countries to see how else we can add our support.”

The Co-op Group announced it would be making a £100,000 donation to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) to help kickstart its support of the appeal.

Rebecca Birkbeck, the Co-op’s director of Community and Member Participation said: “We’re deeply saddened by the scenes in the aftermath of the earthquake. People have been left without shelter in freezing winter conditions, with humanitarian needs expected to grow in the coming days.

“We know our members and customers will want to help and we’re proud to be coming together with other co-operative societies and the wider Co-op movement, as well as our Nisa colleagues to collectively support this appeal.”

Mutual insurer Simplyhealth has also launched a fundraising appeal for DEC’s Turkey-Syria Earthquake Appeal, announcing it would be matching donations made by our customers, colleagues, corporate clients, professionals, partners, friends and family up to £75,000.

On 10 February the Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions, in partnership with World Council of Credit Unions (Woccu), announced the launch of its Turkish Cooperative Earthquake Relief Fund to solicit donations in support of Turkey’s cooperative movement.

Woccu president and CEO Elissa McCarter LaBorde has reached out to the leaders of Tarimkredi and the heads of other organisations in Turkey to assess the greatest needs and to determine how the Relief Fund can be put to the best and most immediate use possible.

“As someone who managed post-earthquake recovery programmes in Turkey earlier in my career, my heart goes out to the many communities that have been hit by this tragedy. World Council and our Worldwide Foundation have assisted financial cooperatives in the wake of natural disasters for decades. We are proud to play a part in helping mobilise the generosity of the global credit union movement to support those in need,” said McCarter LaBorde.

Donations to the Turkish Cooperative Earthquake Relief Fund are now being accepted here.  

Woccu is also encouraging those who want to support the immediate humanitarian relief efforts on the ground in both Turkey and Syria to donate to the International Blue Crescent Relief and Development Foundation (IBC) a non-governmental organisation that is distributing hot meals, ready-to-eat food, blankets, aid kits, and is contributing to build shelters and tent cities. Contributions to the IBC donation can be made here.

Co-operative and mutual insurers around the world have also confirmed their support through financial donations towards the disaster relief efforts in Türkiye and Syria. These included members of the International Cooperative and Mutual Insurance Federation (Icmif) who donated to the Canadian Red Cross, such as Canadian insurers Beneva (CA $25,000), Co-operators (CA $50,000,) Desjardins Group (CA $60,000) and Gore Mutual (CA$25,000). Meanwhile, the the LB Foreningen association (Denmark), which includes all 420,000 members of ICMIF member, LB Forsikring, announced it had donated DKK 2 million to the Red Cross for their work for the victims of the earthquakes. Similarly, German co-op insurer R+V Versicherung will provide €50,000 as a donation to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies – IFRC.

Co-ops in Israel are also helping in the relief efforts in Turkey. The Arab-Jewish Center for Empowerment, Equality, and Cooperation – Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Economic Development (Ajeec-Nisped) and Kibbutz co-op movement are working with NGO IsraAID and co-operators in Turkey to support relief efforts.

“IsraAID partnered with Latet, Society for International Development – Israel, the Israeli Chamber of Commerce, and co-ops organisations in Israel and Turkey to pack and distribute hundreds of kilograms of food, tents, warm blankets, and other humanitarian relief items. We are also sending essentials from our logistics hub in Tulcea, Romania, on the border of Ukraine,” said Mully Dor, the chair of Ajeec-Nisped and board member of IsraAID.

This article was last updated on 21 February.