National UN Volunteers in the 1999 earthquake

01 Aug 2000

On 17 August 1999, an earthquake of 7.4 on the Richter scale lasting 45 seconds, with its epicentre at Gölcük, hit the Marmara region of Northwestern Turkey. 

Then on 12 November 1999, while recovery operations were still under way, a second earthquake of 7.2 on the Richter scale, with its epicenter at Düzce struck in the same region. In total these two earthquakes seriously affected an area mainly concentrated in 5 provinces (Kocaeli, Sakarya, Yalova, Bolu and Düzce), covering an area of 21,444 Km², including 42 districts, 124 municipalities and 1,602 villages with a combined population of 2,626,177.

The human cost of these earthquakes was extremely high. Based on the latest figures from the Disaster Region Coordinators office (31 March 2000) 17,255 people lost their lives, 23,781 were seriously injured and 505 were permanently physically or psychologically disabled. In addition to the human loss, and adding to the trauma of the survivors, 388,942 buildings totally collapsed or were so badly damaged as to require demolition. 283,240 housing units and 41,160 commercial units sustained some degree of damage .

The Role of Volunteers 

During emergency humanitarian response to the earthquake, volunteers played an important role in assisting the earthquake victims, both through their support to the local governments, as well as through their work within international and national non-governmental organisations. Much of the voluntary action seemed to have been spontaneous, informal and unstructured. 

Within the framework of UN support to national reconstruction efforts, a temporary UNDP Coordination Office was set up in Kocaeli in December 1999, with 2 other antenna offices in Yalova and Adapazar, as well as one liason office to serve Bolu and Düzce. As it was decided that it will be useful to utilise the services of young national volunteers for the activities of these offices, a national UNV scheme was established and implemented for the first time in Turkey, with the assistance and support of UNV Headquarters. 

Nine national UNVs were recruited and worked for five months with the substantive back stopping and coordination of a field coordinator and the programming/administrative support of the UNDP Country Office. The main target of the UNV team was to establish a solid information gathering system that would facilitate the identification of pipeline projects for UNDP and in this way, to anchore UNDP's presence in the earthquake stricken area. 

At the end of their assignment period, the national UNV team prepared a comprehensive report which serves as a useful tool for future planning in disaster management related activities of UNDP, as well as providing the basis for identifying the areas of cooperation with the national and international aid organisations on related issues.

The Antennas have been unique in that they have been manned with National United Nations Volunteers (NUNV). Utilisation of the NUNV modality has contributed immensely to the success of UNDP's operations in response to this disaster. Similarly, we feel that exposure to the UN system and to the concept of voluntarism has significantly contributed to the career development and empowerment of the young Turkish volunteers.