Turkey Earthquake Exposes the Need for Massive Urban Regeneration

February 6, 2023 - Southeast Anatolia, Turkey

Morning twilight on an unassuming Monday in early February, the citizens of Southern Turkey and Northern Syria were nearing the end of a night’s rest. All of which were unaware a magnitude 7.8 earthquake is about to alter their lives forever 11.1 miles under their beds. Shortly after, in the early afternoon, while still fighting for their lives and lives of their loved ones, an unimaginable magnitude 7.5 earthquake would follow.

Reports indicate that the earthquake stole the human lives of over 40,000 and injured 105,000 more in Turkey alone. Another 1.6 million people rendered homeless, with many separated from family members. The World Health Organization estimates that the earthquake affected 23 million people. Not even mentioning the domestic and wild animal life toll and emotional damage on those directly and indirectly effected. The totality of the scope of devastation of this natural event is truly staggering and our thoughts, prayers, and hopes are with the entire region.

Structurally and economically more than 200 thousand buildings have also been affected and damaged as of this writing. Nearly 6,500 buildings were completely destroyed due to the earthquake. The earthquakes severely damaged the major cities of Maras, Hatay, Adiyaman and Malatya among many others in Southeast Anatolia.

Mountains in Turkey

Important Background Information

The geographic landscape in this part of the world has been and continues to be very hazardous when it comes to earthquakes. The epicentre of the earth’s shift occurred within the East Anatolian Fault Zone, up and down the fault line. It is a major tectonic feature that extends for about 1,200 kilometres (750 miles) from the northern end of the Dead Sea in southern Turkey to the Caucasus Mountains in the east. The cause of the earthquake was the Arabian Peninsula fault compressing the Anatolian fault. Earthquakes of this scale have consistently occurred in the region only every 300 years, or so. For example, in 1114 an earthquake of similar magnitude occurred in the region and caused more than 40,000 deaths. (Similar earthquakes struck Maras in 1513 and 1822).

Even with the location’s inherent topographical traits instigating this monumental event, there were many other contributing factors that have had an impactful hand in the outcome the world has witnessed this month. In fact, in this article we will focus on many of these factors within the context of determining Turkey’s path forward in terms of regrouping and reconstructing the area. Also, we will focus on Turkey’s future actions and lessons to be applied moving into the future to mitigate devastation in other vulnerable areas around the country.

One of the other contributing natural factors was, the two 7+ earthquakes occurring so close together both in time, and in distance. This put unbelievable strain on the infrastructure and the significantly hampered people’s chances of evacuating or saving those in close proximity.

The unfortunate, unnatural multiplication of devastation upon this situation begins with city planning. Although, the earthquakes covered an abnormal amount of distance, the cities in the effected regions were very densely populated in relation to other settlements in the region. This dense construction was mostly done before 1999, a significant year in Turkish construction standard enforcement due to a devastating earthquake in Turkey’s Istanbul/Marmara region. So, millions were living in buildings under constructed, with absolutely no earthquake reduction taken into account. And they were living in areas that were already hard to reach in non-emergency situations due to dense city planning.

The last major factor was, the more micro, decision of builders to construct on flat plains. Flat plains are more severely affected by earthquake tremors. And without proper earthquake resistance building techniques, building here leaves the structures very vulnerable to any such events.


Regrouping and Reconstructing

Once our brothers and sisters of the area have been looked after, assured health, with time to mourn, clean up of the region will commence. With the right combination of global conditions, international aid and government incentives, the region affected by the disaster can be rebuilt within two years. An optimistic view, undoubtably.

If Turkey’s national elections are not postponed, the duration may be extended further. But regardless of timeline and political circumstances, reconstruction largely fall on the shoulders of Turkey’s private sector. Turkey has some of the world’s biggest construction companies who will play a major role in reconstruction. According to United Nations, Turkish building companies accounted for $35 billion dollars’ worth of contracts, globally, in 2022. Turkish companies have a great deal of experience in the city construction process. And they have been building cities in many countries for more than 50 years. More than 78,000 factories and 1.1 million exporting companies in Turkey will significantly contribute to this national process to bring the disaster region back to its feet.

While reconstructing the area will be top priority. Maybe, a more urgent proposition in the near-term future is future-proofing Turkey’s vulnerable areas that sit exposed today. Turkey has more than 40 million buildings all around the country. Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir have the most buildings as banner cities. Many of these buildings are too old to live in and will be severely damaged by an earthquake should they should find themselves as unfortunate as some of the areas in our current reality.

According to The Ministry of Environment, City and Climate, Turkey will need to regenerate all of its cities in the coming years. The total number of buildings that need regeneration is around 3.2 million throughout Turkey, with the largest cohort residing within Istanbul (500,000 buildings), the country’s largest metropolis. It is essential that the municipality, businessmen, and state work together achieve these initiatives. Regeneration is of the utmost importance to Turkey’s overall health and future.

From our experience and point of expertise, within the real estate sector, we have seen these players in action. When all three parties are aligned, municipality, developer, and state government, massive engineering marvels have been undertaken and successfully completed in remarkable quality and speed. Since Istanbul’s historical earthquake of 1999, most of the city’s neighbourhoods have some experience with the city’s urban regeneration program. We know that a lot has been accomplished already in other cities as well. But if Turkey is to have a prosperous future avoiding catastrophes, such as in Southeast Anatolia, Turkey and the world’s international community will need to come together and invest time, money, expertise, and human spirit. There is so much more work to do.

Regeneration in Turkey

How can you help provide aid?

If you would like to contribute to the further aid of Southeast Anatolia, the victims of the earthquake and their caretakers are in urgent need of resources. Please visit AFAD, the Ministry of Interior’s Disaster And Emergency Management Presidency, at: en.afad.gov.tr


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