Turkey in humanitarian and development aid

Turkey has been a fast-emerging donor country in the last couple of years with grants, loans and donations made to foreign countries on the rise. The three-year average of the official development aid between 2010 and 2012 is calculated as $1.6 billion, which is a new record in Turkey’s history in the area of humanitarian and development assistance. Turkey’s development aid increased almost 30 percent, by $1.2 billion, in 2011 and 98 percent, by $2.4 billion, in 2012 compared to previous years. As the traditional donors’ shares have decreased emerging economies like Turkey have been coming along to make up for the decline.

This is in line with the enhancement of Turkey’s economic and political clout, which uses humanitarian and development aid efforts to advance its own interests while making a difference in partnering countries in difficult times. There are certainly economic and political motivations behind these efforts that also boast the ethical and moral values underpinning renewed activism in Turkish foreign policy. At times, pure humanitarian interests loom large over other motives, but there is always a mixture of many reasons for deeper Turkish engagement in providing assistance to foreign countries to varying degrees. Therefore, the revelation that Turkey was the fourth largest government donor of humanitarian assistance in 2012, contributing over $1 billion — according to the “Global Humanitarian Assistance [GHA] Report 2013,” an annual publication from Development Initiatives on global trends in humanitarian financing — should not come as a surprise. Turkey followed the US ($3.8 billion), the EU ($1.9 billion) and the UK ($1.2 billion) last year.

A significant amount of Turkey’s contribution in humanitarian assistance was likely spent on taking care of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees currently hosted in Turkey. But there are other cases Turkey has been heavily involved in to improve the lives of people, like those in Somalia. I spoke to the Somali ambassador to Turkey, Mohamed Mursal Sheikh Abdirahman, in the wake of the deadly bombing attack on the Turkish mission in Mogadishu by the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab, which killed one Turkish policeman and some locals. Dismissing claims that most aid money was wasted in corruption and embezzlement scandals in the Somali government, Abdirahman said his government has not seen much of the aid promised by donors. In contrast to other countries, Turkish aid, he said, does not come with many strings attached. Turkish efforts really made a difference in Somalia, as Turkish aid workers, under security risks, were visible all over Mogadishu, from building wells to developing sanitary services in the city. Despite the attack, Turkey vowed to keep its commitments in Somalia and to increase its development assistance.

In addition to humanitarian aid, Turkey has started extending loans to other countries in order to shore up stability and contribute to the economic well being of these countries identified as key strategic partners for Turkey. The $2 billion loan provided to Egypt during the rule of the now-deposed President Mohammed Morsi — the country’s first democratically elected president — can be described in this context. Ankara has already transferred $1 billion to Egypt, and the second half is expected to be delivered in the form of investments in Turkish companies that develop Egyptian infrastructure. Despite Turkey’s condemnation of the military coup in Egypt, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç made clear at the outset that Turkey has no plans to cut ties with the Arab country. He underlined that Turkey will keep its promise and provide the remaining $1 billion of the $2 billion loan, adding that his government has not discussed canceling the remaining $1 billion. “The promise we made earlier will be fulfilled,” the deputy prime minister noted.

Similarly, last year, Ankara provided Tunisia with $100 million in aid to help it overcome its social and economic difficulties, while Turkey’s state-owned export credit agency, Eximbank, extended $500 million in loans to entrepreneurs in the North African country. It also rushed $50 million in grants. Ankara also provided a $200 million emergency financial loan to Libya in 2011 (half of it was cash) when the country was experiencing huge difficulties during the transitional government era following the end of Muammar Gaddafi’s rule.

Pakistan, the country that gets the bulk of Turkish aid, is another example in that regard. Turkey sees Pakistan as a pivotal country and rushes to the assistance of this country in times of need, be it flooding or an earthquake. Between 2007 and 2011, Pakistan received 33 percent of official government aid from Turkey, making it the number one recipient of Turkish aid, according to the 2013 GHA report. The next-door Afghanistan is also a key ally of Turkey, and Turkish development assistance there has served to bolster stability in a war-torn country that sits in the heartland of Central Asia. Kabul has received significant aid from the Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TİKA) in recent years.

Kyrgyzstan is another country that received sizable aid from Turkey. Just last year, Ankara handed out $100 million in cheap loans and $6 million in grants as part of efforts to help Kyrgyzstan improve its budget after the Kyrgyz government failed to receive a similar amount from the Eurasian Economic Community (EAEC). Turkey does not want to see a flare-up of the domestic political tension that occurred there in 2010 with mass protests. Turkey has already given Kyrgyzstan $30 million in the past two years and written off $51 million of its debt.

Turkey offers a more integrated response to development needs with cash assistance accompanied with emphasis on capacity building, transfer of expertise and infrastructure projects. That is why TİKA, Turkey’s official development agency, has been working intensively in areas such as health, education, agriculture, environment, housing, city services and better management in government. Africa was specially targeted by TİKA, with the opening of a total of eight offices in Sudan, Ethiopia, Senegal, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Kenya and Somalia in recent years. The percentage targeting Africa in Turkey’s official aid rose from 3.94 percent in 2010 to 21.14 percent in 2011. TİKA is also active in projects in Lebanon, Palestine, Yemen, Iraq and a number of Eastern European and Latin American countries.

For the 2013 national budget, Turkey, one of the top 10 donors in the world in recent years, has already earmarked $1.1 billion in loans and $53.6 million in grants that will be provided to foreign countries. But this is only a part of the story. Turkish nongovernmental agencies working in aid efforts have also multiplied their assistance to foreign countries in recent years. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been flowing from Turkish NGOs to other countries from Central Asia to Africa, from the Middle East to the Balkans. Unfortunately, sometimes either underreporting or lack of better reporting makes it difficult to provide exact amounts of development and humanitarian assistance from NGOs in Turkey. But the situation is clearly improving to get a better picture. Kimse Yok Mu (Is Anybody There) is a Turkish NGO that stands out in aid efforts and must be commended and singled out for its excellent outreach activities in this area.

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