Türkiye/Syria: A conversation about coordination​​​​​​​

“Above all, we would like to commend the great value of our national and sub-national colleagues and how they roseto the challenge. Many were directly affected by the earthquakes, sleeping in their cars with their families. In extremely challenging times, they continued working hard to lead the coordination efforts and brought clarity and hope to those communities.”

Tens of thousands of people were killed or injured, and millions displaced after losing their homes by the earthquakes that struck Türkiye and north-west Syria last February. In Türkiye, widespread damage extended for kilometres on end. In Syria, the earthquakes worsened an already dire humanitarian crisis after years of conflict. Three months after the devastating earthquakes, colleagues from the global clusters deployed to support the response efforts share their experience and reflect about some of the coordination challenges and opportunities that emerge in a large-scale response across two different countries.

From Gaziantep, Eric Wyss and Nicolas Servas provided child protection and education coordination support to the government-led response in Türkiye while Nawres Mahmood, Rasha Al-Ardiand Ross Tomlinson provided cross-border support on child protection, nutrition, and WASH to the earthquake response in north-west Syria. From Damascus, inside Syria, Ramy Zaki provided WASH information management support to north-west Syria and Nisar Syed worked with the country office to support intercluster collaboration and the fulfilment of cluster lead agency accountabilities.

Bringing clarity to the response—facing themain challenges.

“The devastation left behind by the earthquakeswas unlike anything seeninthe regionin the past century —all was flat, no one building was standing. Humanitarian actors had to respondto two very different scenarios: Syria, with twelve years of protracted crises and Türkiye,a middle-income country.”

In Türkiye, the response was led by the government, who had good response capacity. Yet, it was also overstretched and welcomed the additional support and experience in international humanitarian coordination. There was a shift from the refugee coordination model in place at the time of the earthquakes to a system-wide coordination, with a Flash Appeal and changes in the architecture. “Colleagues welcomed the support to navigate across different coordination models”, explained Eric Wyss. Also, Nicolas Servas pointed out the importance of coordination among all actors to allow for the sharing of timely and reliable information.

For the people in Syria, the response to the earthquake was unfortunately more of what they are already used to.“The additional daily and weekly reporting needs created overburdening in already overstretched teams and partners” reported Nawres Mahmood. When the earthquake struck, the country was already responding to a protracted conflict and a cholera crisis. Despite that, the coordination structure was not adequately supported and, in fact, most of the cluster coordination and information management positions were and still are double-hatted, as stressed by Rami Zaki. According to Ross Tomlinson, historical issues such as funding shortages, gaps in data, shortcomings in collaboration across sectors and information sharing all called for reinforcing. For instance, colleagues notice that while there was a lot of information on population already displaced by previous crisis, there was less visibility on non-displaced population now also affected by the earthquakes. As highlighted by Rasha Al-Ardi: “Poor information sharing jeopardizes working more efficiently and faster together”.

The good side of coordination—what we are good at.

Without coordination, it is impossible to deliver better and faster results affirmed Nawres Mahmood, who shared her experience regarding the Child Protection Area of Responsibility. “Child Protection has 45 active partners only in North-WestSyria. This number is huge and without coordination among them, it would have been unlikely for the child protection response to go hand in hand with the overall humanitarian response strategy”. Nisar Syed also acknowledged the essential role that clusters and sectors had in supporting the early recovery needs.

Rasha Al-Ardi added that coordination brought partners together and ensured everyone was on the same page, working together, sharing timely information and always keeping a line of communication open. Coordination helped ensure attention to population groups that would otherwise have been forgotten and it offered an opportunity to activate subnational groups and strengthen the localization agenda. In this regard, Ross Tomlinson and Eric Wyss further underscored that the added benefit of coordination was providing partners with leadership, guidance, direction and strategic thinking.

There were also some unexpected opportunities. The launch of the Flash Appeal for a 3-month emergency in what had been until then a purely refugee context in Türkiye brought new opportunities to work with different partners and government authorities and to strengthen the capacity of humanitarian actors to work along the nexus.

Many staff worked relentlessly for weeks, literally living in their office and that caused huge mental weight. The additional support helped them relieve some pressure, strengthened coordination in this critical time and provided support for the early recovery and post-emergency response needs.

On your side—expanding support to country and regional offices.

When asked about what UNICEF can do to support country and regional offices, Ross Tomlinson and Rasha Al-Ardi highlighted the importance of speeding up the procedure for promptly setting up the surge mechanism and the recruitment process whenever needed. “That would ensure that the day after the emergency starts, we are already there and ready to provide immediate assistance”. Indeed, coordination teams were only partially operational in the first weeks as they were affected by the earthquakes as well.

Rami Zaki added that there is a need to ensure the full capacity of the coordination team, at least for each cluster and Nicolas Servas stressed the importance of supporting needs assessments. To avoid overburdening, UNICEF Headquarters should reassure field operations colleagues that “whenever there is the need to scale up an emergency response, it is acceptable to concentrate efforts on that and temporarily suspend work on other issues”, further commented Eryc Wyss.

Final remarks

All colleagues agreed that the response to the earthquakes in Türkiye and north-west Syria is a good example to document in terms of prioritization of capacities at the right level. UNICEF needs to be proactive in emergency preparedness for L1, L2 and L3 countries to deliver on our accountabilities at the IASC level and to the children. 

To provide adequate coordination, it is imperative to have adequate staffing levels”, added Nisar Syed. UNICEF could have done better to fill cluster roles at country level, internally or through our partnership with standby partners. Especially for L2 and L3 emergencies, we should act faster and use the Emergency Procedures specific to these contexts as an opportunity to accelerate the recruitment processes during critical times.

We must remind ourselves that UNICEF is the lead  [or co-lead]  agency for  Child  Protection, Nutrition,  Education and  WASH, hence, we are responsible for support to entire sectors and all partners, not only our implementing partners and UNICEF interventions.

After the catastrophic earthquakes that struck Türkiye and north-west Syria, we spoke with colleagues from the global clusters. They shared their experience in supporting the scale-up of the response to the earthquakes in the two countries, while recognizing the courage of colleagues who, despite being personally affected by the earthquakes, stepped up to the challenge and led the coordination efforts bringing hope to the millions of people affected.

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