Nov 14, 2011
At least six hundred people died and 2,000 were wounded on October 23rd, when an earthquake that registered 7.2 on the Richter scale hit Van, a Kurdish region in eastern Turkey. Almost half of the buildings in the area were destroyed or made uninhabitable.
The population is facing winter and snow in this mountainous area. The Turkish government barely acted in the first 24 hours, although it has been very quick to move against Kurdish guerrillas. Meanwhile, thousands of families were forced to sleep outside as the temperature fell to freezing, without enough tents for everyone who needed shelter.
Since 2003, some 30 billion dollars has been collected in taxes, supposedly to finance earthquake-proof construction throughout Turkey, much of which has experienced quakes. But it turns out the money was used for something else!
The truth is that corruption has long been tied to anti-earthquake measures. When the earthquake of 1999 killed 19,000 people in the Istanbul area, the Kurds could not be blamed. But the developers could, since more than half of all buildings in the region were built WITHOUT permits. In the face of the outrage back then, laws were passed so that this wouldn’t happen again. But obviously it’s not enough to pass laws.
The Van earthquake once again showed what builders have been allowed to get away with – economizing on cement, iron, foundations, etc. On October 27th, the daily paper Milliyet printed a photo showing a building built in 1952 which remains upright and intact, despite the earthquake. Next to it was another building built in 1998 completely collapsed.
Since October 23rd, the press has spoken of the risks to all Turkish people, especially in the region of Istanbul, with a population of more than 13 million. Yet, thanks to government corruption, half the area’s buildings are dangerous or built without permits. That means at least half the population is in buildings unlikely to withstand a major earthquake.
Seismologists predict such an earthquake will hit Turkey again in the next few years or decades. If the negligence continues, the risk is that the death toll might not be in the thousands but in the hundreds of thousands of lives.
Postscript: An after shock of 5.7 magnitude hit the Van region again on November 9, leaving at least 33 more people dead. Snow has begun to fall as some men in Van protested over the distribution of tents.