An image of a drowned Syrian boy who had washed up on the beach clearly signifies a failure on the part of the global humanitarian system. A Syrian father attempted to save his family by setting off on a boat organized by human smugglers, but the journey ended tragically. While such incidents should serve as a wake-up call for countries around the world, the plight of Syrian refugees is getting worse and nothing close to a concrete solution has surfaced so far.
The humanitarian system as we currently understand it is based on the initiatives of the U.N., international humanitarian organizations and state actors. Traditional donors from the western and northern hemispheres, emerging ones in the Global South, and newcomers from the periphery all maintain differing humanitarian priorities. These differences are evidenced by the international community's failure to address tragic situations like those of Syrian refugees.
One country that has undertaken positive steps on behalf of Syrian refugees is Turkey, which has taken in more than 2 million. The Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA) is responsible for coordinating Turkey's official aid programs, engaging in both humanitarian aid distribution and development cooperation. TİKA offers a holistic approach to help alleviate suffering, and simultaneously plans for and builds sustainable futures for communities in need. It operates under the guiding principles of Turkey's humanitarian diplomacy, which considers TİKA a chief actor in Turkey's official aid capacity. Coordination for TİKA's development activities in education, health, transportation, communication infrastructure and environmental protection as well as its emergency and humanitarian aid efforts are conducted through its offices in 48 developing partner countries.
Although it remains a work in progress, Turkey's humanitarianism has had a global reach and has achieved considerable success. To further enhance its efforts, Turkey must supplement its humanitarian efforts with additional capacity building, better coordination of aid and efficient and functional project identification and implementation. Nonetheless, Turkish state and societal actors, in particular humanitarian nongovernmental organizations, are willing to promote Turkey's humanitarian role despite problems in the global humanitarian theater. This strong domestic support will keep Turkey in a position to serve as a major global humanitarian player for the foreseeable future.
Turkey's humanitarianism constitutes a landmark example of bringing new capacities and resources to the global humanitarian system. When it comes to chronic refugee crises like what we are now seeing, the world can certainly do better. What is lacking is a unified effort to combine resources, plan pre-emptively, and implement accordingly. Turkey has taken a critical first step, but it is time to join hands at both the state and societal levels and work toward an all-encompassing and functional humanitarian space.
* The president of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency. This article was previously published in The Cipher Brief.