One month on, the after-effects of the shocking and tragic earthquake in southern Turkey are still being felt, both literally and metaphorically. The region is still being hit by aftershocks, while the search and rescue teams continue to look for the last few survivors. International assistance has been provided from all over the world. China donated just $5.8m to assist Turkey, while the US pledged $185m and the UK $30m.
These terrible events, and the domestic and international relief efforts to alleviate them, have had a profound impact on the views and opinions of the Turkish people, the consequences of which will shape the future of this strategically important country, not just in this election year, but in the decade to come.
These views can be seen starkly in a recent poll carried by my company Premise, a research technology and data company. We surveyed the opinions of a nationally representative sample of more than 1,000 Turkish people from across the country about the earthquake. We asked them for their views on the international relief effort, the contributions from various aid agencies and also for their views on causes of the catastrophic damage. The results make sobering reading for both President Erdogan, but also for the West.
The starkest finding in our data is that China is perceived as being far and away the most valued country in providing disaster relief: 72% of our nationally representative sample had a positive or very positive impression of China’s contribution, while the US, despite providing more than 20 times as much cash, was perceived in a similar light by only 59% of the population. Having invested historically in their relationship with Turkey, China has found it simple to project its influence as a high-profile presence in the disaster relief from the start. This has clearly struck a powerful chord with people. The US, on the other hand, has had to pay a vastly higher premium in return for credit from the Turkish people.
Qatar is perhaps the most surprising outlier to have secured a powerful, positive impression amongst Turks: 26% believed that Qatar has provided the greatest support to the relief effort, the highest figure for any country. A lot of this must have been due to Qatar’s decision to donate 10,000 housing units to the affected area that were left over from last year’s World Cup. The donation received widespread coverage in the Turkish media and clearly had a powerful impact – proof that Qatar continues to receive international and diplomatic benefits from hosting the World Cup.
Behind these two comes the EU. It came in third with 16% of people saying that it had provided the most support, while 11% thought it would be most capable of assisting in the rebuild. By contrast, the relief effort from the US and the UK does not appear to have been particularly recognised. Only 8% of the poll felt that the US had done the most. The UK falls much further behind, barely registering 1%. Similarly, only 49% of those polled had a positive impression of the UK’s relief effort, whilst China polled at 72%.
Our poll also confirmed the bubbling anger and resentment amongst Turkish people for the apparent lack of preparedness for such a huge earthquake and for the scale of the damage it did. A resounding 88% agreed that the Erdogan government was not prepared for such a tragedy, while 59% believed that corruption in state institutions had added to the death toll, almost certainly a reference to the continued debate over the lack of effective building and planning controls in the affected area. The scale of dissatisfaction with the government suggests it will not die down quickly. President Erdogan’s response to this tragedy, and indeed the free press’s ability to report on his government’s previous amnesty on shoddy housing, will define his success in the forthcoming election.
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What conclusions should we draw from this? From an international perspective, we should appreciate that the West is paying a heavy premium for less recognition of its far greater contribution to the relief effort. It is clear that the West has much to learn from its less generous, yet more strategically-minded competitors. From a Turkish perspective, we should appreciate that President Erdogan’s success in the forthcoming election will be defined entirely by how he responds to this nation-defining disaster.
The author is managing director of Premise Data.