during the years Turkey tempts fate by failing to enforce modern building regulationsAllowing – and in some cases encouraging – a housing boom in earthquake-prone areas, experts warn.
loose application of the code, about which experts in geology and engineering They have long warned, now under scrutiny in the wake of devastating earthquakes this week that toppled thousands of buildings and killed more than 20,000 people in Turkey and Syria.
“This is a disaster caused by shoddy construction, not an earthquake,” said David Alexander, professor of emergency planning at University College London.
It is well known that many properties in the areas affected by the two major earthquakes this week were made from substandard materials and methods And they usually didn’t meet government standards, said Ip Muhcu, president of the Turkish Chamber of Architects.
Muhcu said it includes many older buildings, but also apartments built in recent years, nearly two decades after the country’s building codes were brought up to modern standards. “Despite the reality of the earthquake, the construction in the area was poor and not firm,” Muhku said.
According to experts, the problem has been largely ignored because tackling it would be costly, unpopular and slow a key driver of the country’s economic growth.
To be sure, the successive earthquakes that demolished or damaged at least 12,000 buildings were extremely powerful: their force was amplified by the fact that they occurred at a shallow depth. first magnitude earthquake The 7.8 occurred at 4:17 a.m., making it even more difficult for people to get out of buildings as the ground shook violently. And Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has acknowledged “shortcomings” in the country’s response.
But experts have pointed out that there is a mountain of evidence – and rubble – pointing to a harsh reality aboutOr what made earthquakes so deadly: While Turkey theoretically has building codes that meet current earthquake engineering standards, they are rarely enforced, which is why thousands of buildings have collapsed.
In a country crisscrossed by geological fault lines, people worry about not knowing when and where the next earthquake might strike, especially in Istanbul, a city of more than 15 million people that is vulnerable to earthquakes.
After the disaster, Erdogan’s Justice Minister announced that he would investigate what was behind the destroyed buildings.
“Those who are careless, guilty and responsible for the destruction after the earthquake will answer to justice,” Bekir Bozdag warned on Thursday.
But many experts said any serious investigation into the root of weak building code enforcement should include Erdogan’s policies as well as regional and local officials who oversaw the housing boom that helped fuel economic growth. and promoted.
How do the Turkish authorities supervise the construction of houses?
Shortly before the last Turkish presidential and parliamentary elections in 2018, the government unveiled a comprehensive program to grant amnesty to companies and individuals responsible for certain breaches of the country’s building codes. By paying fines, violators can avoid bringing their buildings up to code. This type of apology has also been used by the previous governments before the elections.
As part of that amnesty program, the government agency responsible for enforcing building codes admitted that more than half of constructions in Turkey – representing about 13 million apartments – do not meet current standards.
The types of violations mentioned in that report by the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning were very diverse, Homes built without permits, buildings that include additional floors or extended balconies without permission, and the existence of so-called precarious housing for low-income families.
The report did not specify how many buildings violated codes related to earthquake safety or basic structural integrity, but the reality was clear.
“The construction waiver does not mean that a property is fortified,” warned Murat Kurum, the current head of the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization, in 2019.
In 2021, the Turkish Chamber of Geological Engineers published a series of reports warning about existing buildings and new construction in areas devastated by this week’s earthquakes, including Kahramanmaras, Hatay and Osmaniye. The chamber urged the government to conduct studies to ensure that the properties comply with codes and are built in safe areas.
A year ago, the House released a report outright calling “slum amnesty, construction amnesty” policies dangerous and warning that “indifference to disaster safety culture” would lead to preventable deaths.
since 1999, When two powerful earthquakes hit northwestern Turkey near Istanbul – the most powerful earthquake killed nearly 18,000 – Building Code has been strengthened and the process of urban renewal has begun, But reforms are not happening fast enough, especially in the poorest cities.
Builders often use low quality materials, hire fewer professionals to oversee projects According to Muhku, president of the country’s Chamber of Architects, they don’t follow various regulations to keep costs down.
He added that the Turkish government’s so-called “peace-making” introduced as a way to secure votes ahead of the 2018 elections has, in fact, legalized unsecured real estate. “We are paying the price with thousands of deaths, destruction of thousands of buildings and economic losses,” he insisted.
Even new apartment buildings advertised as safe were devastated by the earthquake.
Which buildings fell in the earthquake in 2023?
In Hatay province, where the death toll was highest and an airport runway and two public hospitals were destroyed, survivor Bestami Koskuner said many new buildings had collapsed, including “attractive” new ones.
Finally, in Hatay, a historic downtown, a 12-story, 250-unit building completed in 2013 collapsed, killing or trapping an untold number of people alive. According to Turkish media, the Ronesan residence was considered one of the “luxury” buildings in the
area, and was promoted on social media as a “piece of paradise”.
According to the fact-checking website Dogrulukpai, another building destroyed in Antakya is Güklu Bahas, whose construction began in 2017 and was inaugurated with much fanfare in 2019 at a ceremony organized by Hatay Mayor and other municipal officials. Was.
In Malatya, Asura’s new apartments – claimed in advertisements to be earthquake-proof – were damaged in the first earthquake, but residents were unsatisfied. According to a video posted on TikTok and confirmed by verification website Teit Facts, some residents who returned to the building to collect their belongings had a lucky escape a second time after a strong earthquake shook the building. Leaned to one side.
The devastation across Turkey comes at a sensitive time for President Erdogan, who faces tough parliamentary and presidential elections in May amid an economic downturn and high inflation.
Erdogan has regularly cited the country’s construction boom over the past two decades, including new airports, roads, bridges and hospitals, as proof of his success during his more than two decades in power.
In his tour of devastated areas on Wednesday and Thursday, Erdogan vowed to rebuild destroyed homes within a year. “We know how to do this business,” he declared. “We are a government that has demonstrated its capability on these issues. We’ll do it.”