Turkey’s best know Black Swan threat:  Another Istanbul earthquake?

A team from Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality presented a report to Parliament Thursday regarding the aftermath of a possible earthquake in the metropolis, revealing a catastrophic projection.   90% of Turkey is situated on active fault lines, with hundreds of small to moderate quakes causing property damage each year. Despite the well-know risk of quake damage, Ankara continues to treat it like a Black Swan event, taking few precautions, except using it as an excuse for profitable urban renewal projects, which have become one of the main sources of revenue for pro-AKP constructions giants.


On 17 August 1999, an earthquake in northwestern Turkey killed around 17,000 people and left more than 250,000 people homeless. The shock had a moment magnitude of 7.6 and a maximum Mercalli intensity of IX (Violent). The event lasted for 37 seconds, severely damaging the city of İzmit, but also causing significant damage in cities around the Marmara Sea.  Istanbul’s landmark Byzantian city walls bear witness to countless mega-quakes, which destroyed them time and again, before Fatih the Conqueror’s cannons had.


Despite numerous warnings from seismologists, the central government has failed to take adequate measures to mitigate earthquake damage, instead using the threat to gentrify old neighborhoods with brand-new  residences, to extract rant.  Istanbul and other Marmara Region cities have few parks to escape to and safe earthquake shelters.


The report was jointly prepared by Istanbul’s Avcılar and Esenler district municipalities and presented to the parliamentary commission on earthquake measures. It has revealed that 200,000 buildings will be exposed to medium- or high-level damage, which would possibly affect about 3 million residents of Istanbul.


Istanbul, with its population of more than 15 million people, is Turkey’s most populated city and is at constant risk of earthquakes. Multiple studies show the city will inevitably suffer from one powerful earthquake, and experts warn that it is not a question of “if” but “when.”


The recent municipality report said that the number of structurally unsound buildings has risen significantly. While it has increased four times in the Avcılar district, the number has been doubled in the remote Silivri area.



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Tayfun Kahraman from the urban transformation department of Istanbul municipality said that there are about 1.16 million buildings in Istanbul, and the possible earthquake would render at least 20% of them unusable, while some will collapse.


Kahraman noted that 48,000 buildings are expected to be severely damaged in the earthquake, adding that water and gas delivery infrastructure would also face problems.


“The earthquake will approximately create TL 120 billion ($17 billion) economic loss. Of course, this number will be scaled up with further impacts. Because this earthquake will affect the whole Turkish economy. I hope, we will not face such a situation in Istanbul,” he said.


The report suggested improving the infrastructure and transportation network in Istanbul, including highways, bridges and viaducts. It also recommended creating a road map for drinking and utility waters and a strategy for their distribution.


Kahraman said that the municipality has already prepared a map of underground waters in Istanbul, and it is working on a system that would associate these underground waters with temporary shelter areas.


Speaking during the presentation, Ibrahim Aslan, director of Esenler municipalities’ urban transformation department, said a majority of the building stock in the district was constructed during the migration era from rural areas to metropolises in the 70s and 80s without proper engineering and planning. He added that the average building age in the district is 33.


Turkey has suffered devastating earthquakes in the past, including the earthquake of 7.4 magnitude in Gölcük in 1999. It killed more than 17,000 people in the greater region. The country is among the world’s most seismically active zones as it is situated on several active fault lines, with the most potentially devastating being the Northern Anatolia Fault (NAF), the meeting point of the Anatolian and Eurasian tectonic plates.


The Environment and Urban Planning Ministry already has in place an ambitious, nationwide project to improve the building and safety standards for 689,658 houses, shops and offices.


Over the last eight years, the ministry has evacuated or demolished 673,000 of those units, while works on the remaining structures continue.


The government has allocated more than TL 15 billion ($2 billion) for “urban transformation” projects that covered some 5 million people in more than 1.3 million housing units. The operation aims to provide safe homes for at least 45% of the population.



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Yet, the government has refused urban planning  reforms to minimize loss of life from the next quake, while a tax on telecoms equipment and Internet usage levied after the 1999 quake to fund quake projection measures has been subsumed under the general revenue accounts of the Treasury. Not a penny had gone to the a.m. earthquake readiness measures.


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Published By: Atilla Yeşilada

GlobalSource Partners’ Turkey Country Analyst Atilla Yesilada is the country’s leading political analyst and commentator. He is known throughout the finance and political science world for his thorough and outspoken coverage of Turkey’s political and financial developments. In addition to his extensive writing schedule, he is often called upon to provide his political expertise on major radio and television channels. Based in Istanbul, Atilla is co-founder of the information platform Istanbul Analytics and is one of GlobalSource’s local partners in Turkey. In addition to his consulting work and speaking engagements throughout the US, Europe and the Middle East, he writes regular columns for Turkey’s leading financial websites VATAN and www.paraanaliz.com and has contributed to the financial daily Referans and the liberal daily Radikal.