The price of challenging science

The price of challenging science


Actually, there is no need to consult an expert to understand what happened in Erciş, Van. The man on the street is able to see very well what has happened through the images on TV.

What has collapsed is not the buildings but actually, once more, Turkey’s irregularities and lack of inspection.

Assessing the situation, the head of the Van Chamber of Civil Engineers, Şemsettin Bakır, said: “I have taken a look at the material used in seven of the buildings that have collapsed in Van. The material used is river sand. It has big pebbles in it. Pebbles are not compatible with iron. Normally, this sand is not used. The cement is so weak that when you take it in your hands, it crumbles away.

“Ribbed [iron] bars [which increase resistance] have not been used. New regulations demand that ribbed iron bars are used in buildings. Regular bars are banned. We have seen that plain bars have been used in collapsed buildings,” Bakır told Gürkan Akgüneş from daily Milliyet.

The head of the Van Chamber of Architects, Şahabettin Öztürk, has similar comments: “The collapsed buildings are the results of projects that have not respected the necessary technical rules, not obeyed current regulations and not used any knowledge of engineering.

“We have come across unnecessary additional floors and the knocking down of necessary columns and walls to create space for markets and car showrooms. This has played a huge role in the collapse of the buildings. The craftsmanship and the materials are sloppy. Most of the [collapsed buildings] do not have proper licenses. There is a serious lack of municipal inspection,” Öztürk said.

Challenging science

We are no strangers to fraud, such as construction irregularities, stolen material and the breach of engineering principles for profit. We discovered these problems after the 1999 Marmara earthquake when we paid a very bitter price as a nation.

Actually, you can name all of these as the problem of a collective “challenge to science” or “defiance of science.” In this, one can see that there is no huge difference between the west and east of the country.

As a matter of fact, in the statement by the Chamber of Civil Engineers (İMO) on the Van earthquake, it said, “It has been understood once more that no lessons have been learned from the pain and loss experienced and even though it is known that Turkey has to live with the reality of earthquakes, no measures have been taken.”

The statement said the current building stock of Turkey is not compatible with earthquake regulations and demands that a building inventory be made so that necessary measures are taken urgently. Interestingly, the İMO voiced these demands during a meeting they organized for the 12th anniversary of the earthquake in İzmit on Aug. 17 but obviously they remained merely on paper.

Action plan that arrived after 12 years

When you review the earthquake issue in Turkey from whatever angle, you come across a situation of “not learning a lesson” and serious delays. For example, the fact that the construction inspection laws only started in Van in January 2011 highlights this huge delay. Also, there are serious setbacks in the application of this law because inspections cannot be carried out on old buildings.

The only development that can be attributed as positive is that Turkey’s “National Earthquake Strategy and Action Plan” was announced by the government on Aug. 17.

It has taken exactly 12 years for an action plan to be prepared and declared. The İMO, while approving the titles of chapters and aims, had a series of criticisms for those parts of the report where it found faults.

When the Marmara earthquake struck, the majority of us believed that some things would change in Turkey and with the measures taken, mistakes would not be repeated –construction would not be made with pebbles, for example. The images from the Van earthquake have demonstrated that we were wrong.

Our only consolation is that a national earthquake plan has finally been prepared after 12 years.

*Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece appeared yesterday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.