Turkey’s lax policing of building codes flagged before quake


ISTANBUL – Turkey has for years tempted fate by failing to enforce modern building codes while allowing – and in some cases, encouraging – a property boom in vulnerable areas. earthquake, experts said.

The lax enforcement, which geologists and engineering experts have long warned of, is under scrutiny in the aftermath of the earthquake. This week’s devastating earthquakewhich leveled thousands of buildings and killed more than 20,000 people across Turkey and Syria.

David Alexander, professor of emergency planning at University College London, said: “This is a disaster caused by poor construction, not by an earthquake.

Many buildings in the areas devastated by the two major earthquakes this week were built using poor quality materials and methods, and often do not, said Eyup Muhcu, president of the Turkish Chamber of Architects. compliance with government standards.

That includes many older buildings, he said, but also apartments built in recent years — almost two decades after the country adopted modern building codes. “Construction stocks in the area are weak and uncertain, despite the fact that there was an earthquake,” said Muhcu.

The problem has been largely ignored, experts say, because it would be costly, unpopular and limit the main driver of the country’s economic growth.

To be sure, the successive earthquakes that destroyed about 6,500 buildings are extremely powerful — their strength is magnified by the fact that they occur at shallow depths. The first magnitude 7.8 earthquake occurred at 4:17 a.m. making it even more intense people are hard to escape their buildings as the earth shook violently. And President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has admitted “flaw” in the country’s response.

But experts say mountains of evidence — and rubble — point to a harsh reality about what makes earthquakes so deadly: Although on paper, Turkey has rules Construction meets today’s earthquake-resistant engineering standards, but they are rarely enforced. explains why thousands of buildings collapsed.

In a country with many fault lines, people are worried about when and where the next earthquake might strike — especially in Istanbul, a city of more than 15 million people prone to earthquakes. .

Since the disaster, Erdogan’s justice minister has said they will investigate the destroyed buildings. “Those who were negligent, at fault and responsible for the devastation caused by the earthquake will have to answer to justice,” Bekir Bozdag said on Thursday.

But some experts say any serious investigation into the roots of weak enforcement of the building codes must include a close look at the policies of Erdogan, as well as regional and local officials. local people who oversaw – and fueled – the construction boom that fueled economic growth.

Just before Turkey’s last presidential and parliamentary elections in 2018, the government announced a sweeping program to pardon companies and individuals responsible for a number of violations. building codes of the country. By paying the fine, violators can avoid having to put their buildings on the code. Such amnesty has also been used by previous governments before elections.

As part of that amnesty, the government agency responsible for enforcing building codes acknowledged that more than half of the buildings in Turkey — which account for about 13 million apartments — do not comply with the standards. current standard.

The types of violations cited in that report by the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization varied widely, including homes built without permits, buildings that added floors or expanded balconies without permission. permissionless, and the existence of so-called houses encroaching upon the inhabited by the lowly. income family.

The report did not specify how many buildings violated rules related to earthquake resistance or the integrity of the underlying structure, but the facts were clear.

The current head of the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization, Murat Kurum, said in 2019: “A construction amnesty does not mean the building is solid.

In 2021, the Turkish Geological Engineers Division published a series of warning reports about existing buildings and new construction going on in areas razed by the earthquakes of the week. This includes Kahramanmaras, Hatay and Osmaniye. The chamber called on the government to conduct studies to ensure that buildings follow the rules and are built on safe sites.

A year earlier, the Chamber had issued a direct report calling “slum amnesty, construction amnesty” policies dangerous and warning that “indifference to a disaster safety culture” would lead to preventable deaths.

Since 1999, when two powerful earthquakes struck northwest Turkey, near Istanbul – the stronger one has killed about 18,000 people – building regulations have been tightened and urban renewal has accelerated. conducted.

But upgrading is not happening fast enough, especially in poorer cities.

According to Muhcu, president of the country’s Chamber of Architects, builders often use lower-quality materials, hire fewer professionals to oversee projects, and fail to comply with various regulations as a way of doing business. to reduce costs.

He said the Turkish government’s so-called “peace-building” was introduced ahead of the 2018 general election as a way to secure votes that had, in effect, legalized unsafe buildings. whole.

“We are paying the price with thousands of deaths, thousands of destroyed buildings, economic losses,” Muhcu said.

Even new apartment buildings advertised as safe were devastated by the quake.

In Hatay province, where casualties were highest and an airport runway and two public hospitals were destroyed, Bestami Coskuner, a survivor, said he saw many new buildings, even buildings. The new “flashy” has collapsed.

In Antakya, a historic city in Hatay, a 12-story building with 250 apartments completed in 2013 has collapsed, leaving countless dead or still alive trapped. According to Turkish media reports, Ronesans Residence is considered one of the “luxury” buildings in the area and advertised as “a piece of heaven” on social media.

Another building demolished in Antakya is the Guclu Bahce, which began construction in 2017 and opened with a grand opening in 2019 in a ceremony attended by the mayor of Hatay and other local officials, according to the site. fact check web Doggrulukpayi.

In Malatya, brand new Asur apartments – advertised as earthquake resistant in advertisements – suffered damage in the first earthquake, but the residents escaped unharmed. Some residents who returned to the building to collect their belongings were lucky to get out a second time when a second strong earthquake hit, causing the building to slide to one side, according to a video shown on TikTok and confirmed. demonstrated by fact-checking website Teyit.

The devastation across Turkey comes at a delicate time for President Erdogan, who is facing difficult parliamentary and presidential elections in May amid an economic slowdown and inflation. high broadcast.

Erdogan has frequently touted the country’s construction boom of the past two decades, including new airports, roads, bridges and hospitals, as proof of his success over two decades in charge. permission.

During his tour of the devastated site on Wednesday and Thursday, Mr Erdogan pledged to rebuild destroyed homes during the year.

“We know how to do this business,” he said. “We are a government that has proven itself on these issues. We will.”

Fraser reports from Ankara, Turkey. Robert Badendieck in Istanbul and Danica Kirka in London contributed.


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