Tension and Anger Rise Against Building Contractors In Turkey

On Monday, 6 February, Turkey and Syria were hit by a series of violent earthquakes of magnitude 7.8 and 7.5. The quake, followed by hundreds of aftershocks, was recorded by seismographs all over the world, as far as Greenland, as reported by the Danish Geological Institute. The earthquake occurred in a highly seismic zone, the meeting point of the East Anatolian plate, the Arabian plate and the African plate, with the former being crushed by the Arabian plate and pushed westwards, towards the Aegean. The most recent reports speak of a death toll of 21,000, although this total is still being updated. Damage estimates speak of more than 11,300 buildings collapsed, totally or partially.

Turkish President Recep Tayyp Erdogan speaks of the biggest disaster to hit the country since the Erzincan earthquake in 1939, in which 30,000 people lost their lives. According to the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Martin Griffiths, the figures are set to double: ‘There are all sorts of rumours out there about how it could end and I think it’s really difficult to estimate very accurately because we still have to dig under the rubble. But I am sure that the death toll will double or more,’ he said during a speech to Sky News. “This is terrifying but there has also been an extraordinary response to this earthquake, the most disastrous in the last 100 years.”

These repercussions seem absurd when thinking that they could have been completely avoided. Experts had long warned that there would be an earthquake in that area, but as with the 1999 earthquakes, they were not taken seriously. This raises the question of whether the real culprit for these deaths, is not the earthquake per se, but Turkish construction.

Already in 1999, a worrying picture emerged in Izmit: the Turkish building boom had taken place in an uncontrolled and unplanned manner, with little respect for seismic risk and with speculation that had turned some food wholesalers into builders who erected very tall and unsafe buildings, while using reinforced concrete. As reported by the Anadolu news agency, Turkish authorities have arrested more than 100 building constructors in the 10 provinces hit by last Monday’s earthquake: people linked to some collapsed buildings, suspected of violating the country’s building regulations. The Ministry of Justice has authorized almost 150 local prosecutors’ offices to set up ‘investigations on earthquake-related crimes’: prosecutors will be able to initiate criminal cases against all ‘builders and those responsible’ for the collapse of buildings that did not comply with existing codes. One of these contractors is Mehmet Yasar Coskun, who was responsible for constructing a 12-storey luxury apartment building with 250 flats in Hatay province,  which was razed to the ground by the earthquake. The man was arrested last Friday at Istanbul airport while trying to leave the country for Montenegro.

This disastrous news leads us to think about the future of earthquake prevention and what are the essential factors to focus on to avoid similar disasters. The boom in Turkish construction has occurred uncontrollably, not respecting the standards set by the codes established after the catastrophic events of 1999. It is therefore essential to focus on a more assiduous and fierce control of building construction in Turkey, reducing speculation,  and to prevent a similar event from happening again with an even more destructive outcome. People’s lives are not something that people can trade for money and the government needs to take responsibility for these events, making a radical change in the way it has behaved in the last few years.