‘Worse than what you’ve seen’ on television: Upstate native leads disaster assistance response for USAID in Turkey

FOX Carolina spoke to Stephen Allen, a Greenville native, whose regional director for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and a disaster assistance response team (DART) lead in Turkey.
Aftershocks in Turkey and Syria continue as relief efforts continue
Published: Feb. 23, 2023 at 7:37 PM EST
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GREENVILLE, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - Aftershocks in Turkey and Syria continue, and now 47,000 people are dead. This week a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck southern Turkey near the Syrian border which was felt as far away as Israel and Egypt. And FOX Carolina spoke to a diplomat from the Upstate whose working on the front lines.

Stephen Allen is a Greenville native, who after college spent a decade in conflict zones.

“Working with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and then with the United Nations, helping to respond to humanitarian needs created by conflict,” Allen said.

Today, he’s the regional director for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the federal branch of the government aiding outside of the U.S.

“Kind of like FEMA, but outside of America,” he said. “So, if there’s a disaster, a conflict, anything that requires a U.S. government or humanitarian response, we are part of the U.S. government that does that.”

But on Feb. 6, after the deadliest disaster since Turkey became a country, Allen arrived less than 24 hours later, with another duty title.

“I am the overall team lead for our disaster assistance response teams (DART),” he said. “The destruction was probably worse than what you’ve seen on television – to be blunt. It was devastating.”

DART teams are on the front lines of humanitarian response, from search and rescue to disease outbreak prevention.

“Where we need extra help, or they need extra help,” Allen said. “There can be issued with disease, getting clean water, supply chains, and getting basic necessities like food can be very difficult. There’s a tremendous need for temporary shelter. People have lost their homes, and it’s very cold. They need somewhere (to stay) off the street out of their cars.”

It’s to the point the CDC warns food and water-borne illnesses, respiratory infections and vaccine-preventable infections are all risks. At the same time Secretary of State Antony Blinken has pledged another $100 million in humanitarian assistance to Turkey and Syria, bringing the contribution to $185 million.

“It gives you some sense of the scale of this,” Secretary Blinken said, during a Feb. 19 visit to Turkey. “We’ve had tens of thousands of deaths, and tens of millions of people affected by this earthquake, and of course we still don’t know the full extent of it.”

“Syria has been suffering the effects of a civil war for more than 10 years now, and that part of Syria is really the hardest hit from the war,” Allen added. “It’s a place that we were already providing humanitarian assistance because of the war and to have an earthquake come in on top of that is just tragedy on tragedy.”

So how can the public help? Here’s a list recommended reputable relief organization responding to the crisis https://www.cidi.org/disaster-responses/turkiye-earthquake/

“In this case we would say cash is best,” Allen said. “If you can make a donation, those organizations know what to do with it and it would make a meaningful impact for sure.”

“This is going to be a long-term effort,” Secretary Blinken added. “The search and rescue are unfortunately coming to an end. The recovery operation is on, and then there will be a massive rebuilding effort.”

For job opportunities with USAID visit https://www.usaid.gov/partner-with-us