Are you ready for the quake?

Are you ready for the quake?

It is not possible to prevent earthquakes. It is also impossible to know exactly when, where or how strong a big earthquake will hit.

Frightening figures

But, we know two-thirds of the people in Turkey live in earthquake-prone regions and that 100,000 people died in the 56 earthquakes higher than a magnitude of 6.0 in the last 100 years.

We also know the kind of result an earthquake will have depending on its location and magnitude. For example, our state has officially calculated and put in figures the amount of people who will face a life threatening risk if an earthquake higher than a magnitude of 7.0 occurs in Istanbul. I could not show the courage to even write that frightening number here. Our state was not content with this.

They have calculated that in Turkey, there are seven million buildings that are not earthquake resistant, about 14 million buildings that need to be converted against the risk of earthquake, and that 500 billion Turkish Liras will be necessary for this transformation.

Akdağ’s three-year plan

From now on, Deputy Prime Minister Recep Akdağ is responsible for earthquake coordination. I spoke with him recently on the phone. He was still working although it was quite late. 

He is someone who has made the biggest transformation in Turkey’s healthcare system and I am quite optimistic he will succeed in the same test on the earthquake issue.

He started speaking and mentioned an interesting detail I had heard for the first time.

Until today, of the people who have died as a result of natural disasters (such as floods, earthquakes, and landslides) in Turkey, 97 percent have died in earthquakes. In other words, many events come to mind when we hear the words “natural disaster” but the biggest destruction and loss of life happens in earthquakes.

Akdağ drew attention to the importance of a three-phase system they are working on and which will be completed three years from now.

- The first phase is to transform our living areas into earthquake resistant grounds.

- The second phase is to learn what action to take during an earthquake. (Remember, the government or the citizens did not know what to do after the tragic earthquake (that hit Istanbul), 18 years ago. The infrastructure collapsed. The crisis could not be managed. Everyone was instinctively trying to save themselves.)

- The third phase is recovery after destructive earthquakes by building new living areas.

Just like a building’s pillars

Compare these three phases to a building’s pillars. If any of them are not strong enough, they will collapse in the slightest quake, and no matter how strong the other two pillars are, just like a weak building, that construction will also collapse.

First of all, give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, concerning the second phase. Although they look like they are only busy with Syrian immigrants, the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority in Turkey (AFAD), the Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay), and some of the nongovernmental organizations have become quite professional and are ready to take action during a possible earthquake.

But it is quite difficult to show the same optimism about the preparations for an earthquake and its aftermath. The transformation of 14 million problematic buildings for the medium term and for the long term are necessary. Concerning the transformation, there are serious question marks especially in Istanbul, such as “Is it for earthquake transformation or for profit?”

Transforming buildings by adding extra levels to make extra profit with the argument of “meeting costs” almost justifies these questions.

Yet, the citizens of this country paid five times one-off and two times temporary taxes after the 1999 earthquake. Eight billion liras were collected until 2003. 

Forty-five billion liras came out of citizens’ pockets and went to the government’s pockets through communication taxes for the earthquake which were “temporary” at the beginning but later made permanent, starting from 2004.

When I was in the Marmara region where I stayed for many days after the earthquake in Aug. 17, 1999, the sentence I heard most frequently was the one uttered towards the ruins asking “Can anyone hear me?” Today, the question we must ask must be, “Are you ready for the quake?”