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Shattered Ground: Rebuilding Hope And Resilience 250 Days After Turkey's Devastating Earthquake

Seyhmus Ozgur Cansever

As you lay in bed, your home - the place you hold dearest - was destroyed in the middle of the night. This nightmare became a reality over three months ago on February 6, 2023, when two massive earthquakes with magnitudes of 7.7 and 7.6, rocked the Kahramanmaraş region of Turkey. The death toll in Turkey alone exceeded 50,000 while the devastation on the Syrian side of the border was no less horrific. The world rallied together in the wake of this catastrophe, and efficient coordination of aid distribution from various regions of the world was achieved by the international community. Various countries provided official support in the aftermath of the earthquake, while countless volunteers descended upon the affected areas to offer aid. Among their efforts was the removal of debris and rubble, which played a critical role in enabling trapped victims to breathe and ultimately survive. This once-in-a-century disaster has brought out the best in humanity, as people have united to offer support and solace to those in need.

Although the timing of a future earthquake can still not be predicted, technology can already predict provinces at risk. Hence, countries need to be prepared. Considering latest scientific insights on earthquake preparedness, Turkey ought to adopt a zoning law that covers high-risk regions close to the Anatolian, East Anatolian, and West Anatolian Fault Lines. The law shall prioritize earthquake safety and zoning amnesty shall never be granted in these areas. Moreover, training to help citizens take the right action, and perhaps a professional rescue team that can minimize human destruction after demolition are required. It is necessary to evaluate measures to be taken in the short-term as well as those necessary long-term.

Regarding the formers, first and foremost human casualties should be reduced as much as possible. In this context, Turkey sent active-duty members of the Turkish Armed Forces to the field as aid. To ensure the safety of individuals during times of severe crises, it is crucial for soldiers who are stationed in barracks to evacuate the area in an organized and timely manner. This is particularly important since managing the evacuation process can be challenging during such shattering crises. Indeed, Turkish authorities were criticized as the soldiers allegedly did not immediately land on the field – an allegation denied by the Turkish President. In addition, it shall be recognized that the political instability in Syria caused the delay of aid in the period shortly after the earthquake.

What needs to be done in the long run is rather complicated. People who barely survived, should be supported by the state while they try to live in tents. On an individual level, around 2.2 million residences in ten provinces were hit by the earthquakes. For ca. 1.5 million of these houses (48.5%1) the Natural and Disaster Insurance Institution (DASK) has had Compulsory Earthquake Insurance taken out. This way some payments are covered. Furthermore, the President of Turkey announced that 100 billion TL2 (5.12 billion dollars) of funds were allocated from the treasury for the earthquake. Taking into consideration the magnitude of destruction, however, the costs easily surpass these funds. The direct physical damage, estimated by the World Bank, amounted to 34.2 billion dollars in late February. However, during the International Donors' Conference on March 20th, hosted by the EU Commission and the EU Council Presidency of Sweden, President Erdoğan announced that the cost of the earthquake was estimated to be 104 billion dollars.

To get a better idea of the situation, let's consider Hatay, one of the provinces most affected by the earthquake. The population of this province is about 1.7 million people. I went to Hatay 50 days after the earthquake to get a better picture of the disaster and to provide humanitarian support, within my means. On sight, I saw with my own eyes what the tragedy has brought about, and that most of the buildings have been demolished and the remaining buildings will need to be demolished immediately. After all, the construction of the city from start to finish will bring financial obligations, possible sociological shifts, and psychological consequences.

To sum up, natural disasters can cause long-term effects on both individuals and communities, leaving behind a trail of devastation. Even beyond the economic toll, the loss of countless lives in mere moments can leave emotional scars that are nearly impossible to heal. To avoid “crises of coordination”, it is critical that the federal and local governments implement proper zoning laws and enforce them rigorously. When human life is at stake and governed by laws, financial ambitions should not supersede moral principles, whether by cutting corners on materials, increasing the size of buildings beyond safety limits, or other reckless practices. Future tragedies can be mitigated, and communities can be supported in their efforts to rebuild and recover by taking proactive measures to ensure the safety and resilience of structures.

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