Mother Nature gives yet another strong warning to Turkey
Friday’s seismic activity that killed at least 35 people should be regarded as another strong alarm given by Mother Nature to Turkey. It simply tells us that we are not ready for a strong earthquake.
It’s a rather strong warning because a 6.8-magnitude tremor is no longer considered a very hazardous earthquake in developed countries thanks to earthquake-resistant buildings.
The latest earthquake in the eastern provinces of Malatya and Elazığ has once again shown that our buildings are not ready for strong tremors. In 2011, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake hit Van, another eastern province, and killed 600. All these cities are on the nearly 600-kilometer-long East Anatolian Fault and experts warn that similar activities may be observed in the coming period.
But the danger is bigger than thought. Turkey is one of the most seismically active countries as it sits on a number of active fault lines. The most potentially devastating active fault line is the nearly 1,500 kilometer-long Northern Anatolian Fault, which extends across northern Turkey and into the Aegean Sea. And it runs only 20 kilometers south of Istanbul, Turkey’s largest metropole with 16 million people.
The memories of the deadly 1999 earthquake that had hit the entire Marmara region and Istanbul are still fresh. That’s why any seismic activity across the country revives all the concerns over an impending strong earthquake around Istanbul. Experts predict that a big quake will hit Istanbul in the near future and repeatedly warn that it might cause more destruction than the 1999 earthquake.
In this context, it’s very normal that the latest earthquake has triggered discussions about the level of readiness for a strong Istanbul-centered earthquake. Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu has recently outlined that around 1.2 million structures in Istanbul were at risk, with around 50,000 of them are believed to get destroyed in a strong earthquake. He also reiterated that a comprehensive study must be made to reinforce all these buildings with the cooperation of the government. He was raising all these issues to convince that Istanbul’s priority is to get ready for a strong earthquake and not create an artificial multibillion-dollar seaway project, the Kanal Istanbul.
This latest tragic earthquake has shown once again that our buildings can hardly stand in the event of even medium-level earthquakes. It’s not the earthquake that kills people, but fragile buildings. And in our case, we have plenty of them.
It’s time for the central government and the local municipalities to join forces to make ready our cities for earthquakes. Last year’s local elections gave the control of six out of 10 largest metropoles to the opposition, including Istanbul, Ankara, İzmir, Adana and Antalya.
In a recent discussion on Kanal Istanbul, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claimed that İmamoğlu, as a mayor, had nothing to do with the government-led projects and therefore should not talk about the project.
This narrative may resonate in different political environments and be useful for short-term political gains but obviously has no power against Mother Nature.
Turkey has to come together will all different political parties and civil society groups if it wants to minimize the hazardous impacts of future earthquakes and other disasters.