The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Why Did So Many Die in Recent Earthquake?

Mar 6, 2023

The earthquake and its aftershocks near the border of Turkey and Syria caused over 52,000 deaths, left about 1.5 million people homeless, and caused nearly 90 billion dollars in damages across both countries.

Scientists now know that earthquakes occur when two tectonic plates come together on a fault line, and one plate slips under the other. The friction between the rocks at the edges of the slipping plates causes waves of vibration to course through the surrounding areas of the plates. Turkey has two major fault lines within it, the North Anatolian Fault and the East Anatolian Fault. While earthquakes of magnitude 7.8 such as this one are rare, earthquakes in this region are not. There have been at least 19 since 2000 in Turkey alone.

Turkey’s Ministry of Environment, Urbanization, and Climate Change found 164,000 buildings collapsed or suffered severe damage. These buildings stood in provinces of both Turkey and Syria located very close to the East Anatolian Fault. This raises the question of why the buildings that collapsed were built in such a dangerous area and why were they not built to withstand an earthquake?

Worldwide, construction engineers have developed architectural methods for buildings to withstand earthquakes. Engineers in Japan have built skyscrapers on top of horizontal cylinders on the ground level that act like wheel bearings. Support columns can be constructed around mesh-like materials that help absorb vibrations from earthquakes. Columns can be placed in such a way that if one fails, others nearby are able to prevent a total collapse.

As one engineer, Mustafa Mahamid of the Technion in Haifa, Israel, put it, “Each story of a building should have enough lateral strength and stiffness to transfer the load during an earthquake all the way to the ground. When it doesn’t, the weak story can fail, bringing the whole building down with it." Videos of some of the buildings that collapsed in Turkey appear to show concrete columns on their ground floors which crumbled into dust, whether due to design errors or the use of poor materials.

The drive for profit that lies at the base of capitalism makes it likely that shortcuts will be taken in the design of buildings and the materials used in their construction. The battle of each private investor against all others prevents any rational, large-scale planning to build only in safe areas.

Science and technology can provide the means and materials for safe construction of buildings and cities, but only if construction is taken out of the hands of the realm of private property.