OECD “Mayor of the Moment” interview with Fatma Şahin, Mayor of Gaziantep, Türkiye
Q: You endorsed the “Brussels Blueprint for Affordable Cities and Housing for All” in June 2023 at the 6th Meeting of OECD Champion Mayors. Can you tell us about the measures you have implemented in Gaziantep to provide targeted affordable housing for refugees, migrants and other vulnerable populations?
A: As you are aware, Gaziantep has been welcoming people fleeing the Syria war since 2011. After meeting their immediate needs, the Metropolitan Municipality restructured its services on the basis of human rights and social justice, according to the ”right to the city” concept, without discriminating against others living in the city.
According to the latest figures released by Refugees and Asylum Seekers Assistance and Solidarity Association (RASAS), Gaziantep hosts the most Syrian refugees after Istanbul with 436,757. This is 16.9% of Gaziantep’s total population. This is slightly more than the official sources of the Ministry of Interior General Directorate of Migration Management, which reported 435,858 refugees under temporary protection in 20 July 2023.
As a result of the rapid population growth (32% in 10 years), there was an increase in demand for housing, as well as an increase in housing and rent prices on an unprecedented scale. To ensure that those living in the city are not affected, we have implemented a housing project of 50,000 units in collaboration with our Municipality and the Mass Housing Administration.
Q: Following the devastating earthquake in Gaziantep this year, how did the city manage the immediate consequences of the crisis and provide relief to residents? How do you plan to build longer term resilience to natural disasters?
A: The Kahramanmaraş earthquake on 6 February was the biggest catastrophe we have experienced in the last century and unprecedented in the modern history of the region. We were on the ground just 30 minutes after the earthquake, and I am very proud of our response team. We first established “Rapid Response Mechanisms” to simplify work in critical areas and stand firmly by our citizens.
The first step was to re-establish land communications, such as bridges and roads, some of which had been cut off, in order to reach the worst-affected areas. This was achieved in two hours, which enabled us to avoid an even more dramatic situation. We were in the middle of winter and the temperatures were close to zero degrees with snow in some places so we had to act quickly. On the first night, we opened accommodation areas, distributed hot food, and set up areas for the rapid and systematic distribution of incoming aid.
We established living spaces in which all basic needs were met quickly, and we initiated psychosocial support activities. We collaborated and co-ordinated with the local and international institutions and organisations involved.
We reinforced this work by establishing the first “Post-Disaster Recovery Department” in Türkiye. In the medium and long term, we have begun the construction of new education and housing areas, started infrastructure work to make our city more resilient, and we are preparing a system that will be ready for all types of adverse situations by conducting a risk assessment of our city.
Q: Gaziantep has endeavoured to empower most of its municipal buildings and infrastructure with renewable energy. What are Gaziantep’s targets for decarbonisation of buildings and renewable energy use? In what other areas is the city taking ambitious climate action?
A: For many years, our municipality has been working on energy efficiency, renewable energy, and climate change. We established the “Energy Management and Climate Change Branch Directorate” in 2014, making it one of the first in Türkiye to carry out national and international energy projects.
This Directorate, in collaboration with energy managers and survey experts, conducts energy-efficiency studies on municipal facilities and buildings and implements efficiency-enhancing projects. Our municipality, which signed the Covenant of Mayors in 2017, committed to reducing CO2 emissions by at least 80% by 2050.
Gaziantep, Türkiye’s first municipality to prepare a Climate Change Action Plan in 2011, completed the Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plan in 2018 and is currently working on the “Gaziantep Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan” for renewable energy and energy management in the public sector. It carries out all of the processes for the projects required in the city’s energy sector, as well as works that will set an example for Türkiye.
Our municipality is preparing national commitments and roadmaps for zero-carbon building policies, as well as local strategies and actions for net-zero carbon building implementation. Gaziantep was chosen as a pilot province in the Zero-Carbon Buildings Project.
Furthermore, Gaziantep Metropolitan Municipality was named the most popular city in Europe, Africa, and West Asia in the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) One World Cities Competition for implementing climate-change projects with an 80% reduction target by 2050.
Elected as Mayor of Gaziantep in 2014, and re-elected in 2019, Fatma Şahin is the city’s first female mayor. Ms Şahin is also Chair of the Asian Mayors Forum (AMF) and Union of Municipalities of Turkey. From 2016 – 2019, she was President of the United Cities and Local Governments – Middle East and West Africa Section (UCLG-MEWA), and Vice-President of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR). From 2011, Ms Şahin served as a Minister at the Turkish Cabinet. In 2002 she was a parliamentarian in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, and member of the Turkish-EU Joint Parliamentary Commission. Ms Şahin holds a BSc degree in Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering from Istanbul Technical University.