Lack of expertise of top AFAD official overseeing earthquake rescue operations draws ire

Amid growing criticism of the Turkish government’s inadequate response to the earthquake victims, the lack of expertise and experience of a top executive overseeing the rescue operations at the disaster management agency AFAD has drawn ire.

This file photo shows AFAD Disaster Response Department head İsmail Palakoğlu.

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The lack of relevant experience and skills of the Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) Disaster Response Department’s head has drawn ire on social media, with many people pointing out that he had extensive working experience in the Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) but no knowledge on disaster-related matters.  

Opposition İYİ (Good) vice chair Erhan Usta shared the resume of AFAD Disaster Response Department head İsmail Palakoğlu on social media, saying that he was a graduate of the Faculty of Theology.

“Who is the general manager of AFAD Disaster Response (Department)? İsmail Palakoğlu. Was he ever seen giving information to the press? No. Why? Because he doesn't have knowledge in the earthquake-related matters, because he is a graduate of the Faculty of Theology. Did he ever do anything with regards to disasters? No,” Usta tweeted.

According to the AFAD website, Palakoğlu graduated from Afşin İmam Hatip High School (high schools giving religious education) and then Ankara University’s Faculty of Theology. After taking on roles in various NGOs, he was appointed to the position of vice presidency at the Diyanet Foundation in 2011. For seven years, he has served as an executive at Diyanet and in 2018, he was appointed as AFAD vice chair.

The social media reaction against Palakoğlu’s lack of experience came amid criticism against the government over the inadequate response to the victims of the two major earthquakes that struck the southeastern region on Feb. 6. There is growing frustration from the public, with people pointing to lack of equipment, expertise and support to rescue those trapped under the rubble. On Feb. 7, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan even himself admitted there were problems with the government's initial response to the earthquakes.