Environment minister warns of ‘mass casualties’ in expected Istanbul earthquake
Environment and Urbanization Minister Mehmet Özhaseki has warned of the danger of “mass casualties” in the event of a strong earthquake, which experts expect to hit Istanbul “at some point between 2030 and 2040.”
“We need to know all of the facts and do something about it. Reports prepared about Istanbul both by the Istanbul Municipality and parliament scare us. These reports put the number of at-risk structures and residences at around 600,000. I don’t want to give you the number of possible deaths. But we need to take precautions as soon as possible,” he added.
“My friends sometimes ask, ‘Why have you become the minister who gives bad news?’ I also don’t want to do it, but a danger exists. Even if we don’t talk about it, the ‘underground rules’ will continue to function. This country is an earthquake country. Scientists see Istanbul as one of the top 10 cities at serious risk of an earthquake,” Özhaseki said.
He also addressed the issue of “urban transformation” projects, overseen by the ministry since the 2000s in a bid to replace risky buildings and structures. He said 7.5 million more buildings across Turkey need to be transformed in the upcoming 15 years in order to guard against the effects of a strong earthquake.
“I’m saying this without any political implications: The fault in the way our cities have been built is a shared responsibility. If the architect bears responsibility, don’t the citizens who push for unlicensed construction and the municipality that allows it also bear responsibility? Our aim is now to put forward healthy cities harmonious with nature through urban transformation,” Özhaseki added.
“It’s essential to keep people in the places where they have memories. In terms of finance, zero-interest support for people whose homes are affected by urban transformation is on the way. Our aim is to transform 7.5 million buildings over 15 years. Some 150,000 of these are in Istanbul and the rest are in Anatolia,” he said.
Özhaseki also criticized some municipalities for being “unwilling to engage in urban transformation.”
“They are saying, ‘We won’t get involved because this urban transformation has turned into unearned income transformation.’ But aren’t you a mayor? If unearned income emerges, give it to citizens. You can’t escape from responsibility or from danger,” he said.
“The doors of the municipalities are open. So come and let’s do this job altogether. We have been carrying out a lot of new and necessary works regarding urban transformation and will share them all with the public soon,” Özhaseki added, describing cities as “living organisms” that they require maintenance, repair and care.
“Our country is like an open-air museum. When we look at our past, we see that we have built two civilizations: The Ottoman and Seljuk civilizations. It’s our right to take pride in these civilizations, but working to build the future is a duty and obligation for us,” he said