Despite scientific evidence warning of an earthquake and proving the need of an earthquake preparation program, there are no comprehensive, systematic, well-planned steps being taken in İstanbul to minimize earthquake vulnerabilities, said Haluk Eyidoğan, an earth physics professor at the geophysical engineering department at İstanbul Technical University's (İTÜ) Mining Faculty.
Noting that the “İstanbul Earthquake Master Plan” has not been put into practice, he said, “İstanbul does have the time or patience to waste any more time.”
Eyidoğan told the Anadolu news agency that the earthquake that struck the Marmara region in 1999 brought to everyone's attention the major shortcomings in Turkey on earthquake risk mitigation. Noting that studies that were carried out in the aftermath of the earthquake were insufficient, Eyidoğan said the Natural Disaster Insurance Institution (DASK), established by a statutory decree, was a very important step; yet, it is very unfortunate that there are still deficiencies regarding its legal framework.
He said institutions that were established to coordinate post-disaster work of state institutions have not put on their best performance either and also criticized urban transformations projects.
Eyidoğan explained that urban transformation projects that seek to mitigate earthquake risks should be called “earthquake-oriented urban transformation,” pointing out that projects carried out under the name “urban transformation” focus on different areas.
He noted that close to half of all houses and residential buildings are considered illegal structures because they lack the proper certifications, adduing that an earthquake-based rehabilitation and transformation inventory was not possible for most towns in İstanbul except Bakırköy, Zeytinburnu and Fatih.
Pointing out that the current legal and financial foundation is not capable of providing the necessary support for earthquake-oriented urban transformation projects, Eyidoğan said another problem is that the public has not been informed about this subject well enough, adding that it seems unlikely that a urban transformation model will be implemented successfully when owners of the property subject to the transformation project do not feel the project is good for them.
“Istanbul cannot be protected by rehabilitating one structure at a time,” he said, adding that there are 15,000 public buildings such as schools, hospitals and social service buildings in İstanbul. Although the World Bank provided an assistance of 630 million euros within the scope of the Istanbul Seismic Risk Mitigation and Emergency Preparedness (ISMEP) Project, only 230 schools, three dormitories, two hospitals and one policlinic has been reinforced, and 11 schools have been completely demolished and re-constructed.
Eyidoğan wondered why projects to reinforce schools and hospitals against earthquakes were progressing so slowly and said: “Consolidation projects have been prepared for 466 school buildings, but the project is waiting for the bureaucracy. Moreover, a list has been prepared of the reinforcements needed for 2,473 public buildings including schools and hospitals. For 840 of these buildings, there are reinforcement plans. But as you can see from the figures, we have a long way ahead in preparing for earthquakes. Hospitals are waiting, too. It is still unclear how hospitals are going to be reinforced. It is unclear when and if they are going to be demolished and then reconstructed all over again.”
Turkey enters urban quake stage
Drawing attention to the fact that a major earthquake has not struck Turkey over the last 10 years, Professor Eyidoğan said 10 years was a very long time, considering Turkey's proneness and vulnerability to earthquakes, but warned that it may not last for too long and suggested that everyone should be ready for a potential earthquake. “Turkey has entered the stage of urban earthquakes. A country that has entered this stage has no time to waste,” he said.
Noting that physically it is impossible to know when, where and how big of an earthquake will occur, Eyidoğan said studies show that there is more than a 50 percent chance that a major earthquake measuring 7 or more on the Richter scale will occur in or around İstanbul or the Marmara region within the next 30 to 40 years. He explained that this was a very high probability, adding: “Whether it is in 30 years or 40 years, 7 or 7.5 [on the Richter scale], debating these issues will not bring us anywhere. There is consensus in the science world that there is a high probability of a major earthquake in the Marmara region. There is no use debating the issue in a way that will leave doubts in the public's mind.”
Noting that 16 percent of İstanbul is in the first-degree earthquake danger zone, 42 percent is in the second degree, 30 percent is in the third degree and 12 percent is in the fourth degree, Eyidoğan said a significant portion of the population and investments in Istanbul would be affected the most by a possible earthquake.
He stated that 89 percent of settlement areas in İstanbul were located in the first and second-degree earthquake danger zones and at least 13 percent of these were built on the most earthquake vulnerable man-made grounds. He also noted that 41 percent of industrial buildings were located in İstanbul, and 15 percent of these were constructed on man-made ground.