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How Turkey’s hasty rebuild could set the nation up for another disaster

HATAY, TURKEY - FEBRUARY 07: Women hug each other near the collapsed building on February 07, 2023 in Hatay, Turkey. A 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit near Gaziantep, Turkey, in the early hours of Monday, followed by another 7.5-magnitude tremor just after midday. The quakes caused widespread destruction in southern Turkey and northern Syria and were felt in nearby countries. (Photo by Burak Kara/Getty Images)
HATAY, TURKEY - FEBRUARY 07: Women hug each other near the collapsed building on February 07, 2023 in Hatay, Turkey. A 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit near Gaziantep, Turkey, in the early hours of Monday, followed by another 7.5-magnitude tremor just after midday. The quakes caused widespread destruction in southern Turkey and northern Syria and were felt in nearby countries. (Photo by Burak Kara/Getty Images)

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Three weeks after the catastrophic earthquake in Turkey, the country had already started to rebuild.

“One of the things that you really want to do is have a thoughtful recovery. A deliberative recovery against all instincts to go fast,” Divya Chandrasekhar, associate professor of City and Metropolitan Planning at the University of Utah, says.

Especially after a major earthquake.

“Every earthquake reveals something new about our fault zones. If you’re building without truly understanding the geology, you are prone to making similar mistakes again and again and again,” Chandrasekhar adds.

Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is facing an election in May. He’s promised to rebuild devastated areas in one year.

Experts say planning and community input are key in disaster recovery.

“So in the long run, speedy recovery does not benefit anyone,” Chandrasekhar says.

Today, On Point: How Turkey’s hasty rebuild could set them up for another disaster.

Guests

Evren Aydoğan, executive director of the non-profit Needs Map in Turkey, which uses online platforms to match those in need with organizations who can help. He is currently working on several recovery projects in collaboration with the United Nations Development Program. (@evrenical)

Divya Chandrasekhar, associate professor of City and Metropolitan Planning at the University of Utah. Her research focuses on post-disaster recovery. (@divya_ch481)

Jared Maslin, Middle East correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, covering Turkey and the wider region. (@jmalsin)

Also Featured

Angelo Jonas Imperiale, author of the research paper “The mechanism of Disaster Capitalism and failure to build community resilience: Learning from the 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila, Italy.” (@imperiale_j)

Transcript: Learning from the earthquake in L’Aquila, Italy

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: We’ve got examples from other parts of the world of the sort of unintended consequences of this process of speedy rebuilding after an earthquake. And one of the best examples comes to us from L’Aquila, Italy. It’s an old mountain town about 60 miles east of Rome, very prone to seismic activity. They had a major earthquake in 1958. And then 50 years later, on April 6th, 2009, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit the town.

ANGELO JONAS IMPERIALE: The main thing I can remember, the destruction, the dust, people screaming.

CHAKRABARTI: This is Angelo Jonas Imperiale. He’s from L’Aquila, and he was there the very day the major earthquake struck.

IMPERIALE: That sort of thing you never expect when you see churches, buildings and public schools that are completely collapsed. And also both my grandmother’s and my mother’s homes were destroyed by the earthquake, and it damaged some 34,000 buildings and 70,000 people were rendered homeless. 309 people died and some 1,600 people were injured.

CHAKRABARTI: So very much like what’s happening now in Turkey. In 2009, immediately after the earthquake, the Italian government announced it would rapidly rebuild the region. The Italian government took a top-down approach, largely run by the Department of Civil Protection. And Angelo tells us the rapid construction plan was also imposed on local people without much input from them.

So imposing the plan, centralizing it, and also importantly focusing on what was thought to be temporary housing at first, all things that are going on in Turkey now. Well, Angelo is also a researcher and lecturer at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, where he focuses on disaster prone communities. And in 2021, he published a paper analyzing the outcome of L’Aquila’s rapid reconstruction.

IMPERIALE: This kind of solution was meant to be temporary, but actually the means of construction implied that they could be permanently used. I thought being understood as a temporary solution and the construction of this building was conducted without any community needs assessment so that there were much, much concern about this and especially about the location. The building was, well, not close to shopping center, degraded transport problems.

But this quickness and the speed at which these buildings have been constructed did not correspond to efficiency in construction. Actually, these buildings were poorly constructed. Of particular note was the collapsing of balconies in several buildings. In 2014, the use of the balconies in 800 apartments was banned.

Other reported problems include the poor quality of construction materials, leaky pipes and water seepage, numerous deficiencies creating dangerous situations, fires due to faulty electrical systems and improper use of flammable materials. And the cost of the project was excess. It was reported that the product cost was some 158% more than normal market cost.

CHAKRABARTI: The European Union was also deeply concerned about the more than $500 million it provided to Italy for reconstruction. In 2013, the European Parliament issued a report warning that much of the money was going to companies with, quote, direct or indirect ties to organized crime. Olga Capasso, Italy’s national anti-mafia prosecutor at the time, said, quote, It seems to me that among the problems related to combating organized crime, L’Aquila is one of the biggest. Angelo says the mismanagement doomed the reconstruction efforts.

IMPERIALE: What happened in L’Aquila actually was that temporary housing drained all of their resources from the physical reconstruction of their houses. So the physical structure of the buildings lagged behind. There are still around 10,000 people living in temporary housing after 14 years. The city now looks … kind of empty of the inhabitants.

Now there are a few hundred people living in the city center, and many buildings, especially cultural heritage buildings, were built, but other buildings that I know that privileged the cultural heritage are still in ruins. While we could say that most of private homes were built following safety measures, we cannot say the same about public buildings. And this includes public schools.

One of the main lessons we can learn from the L’Aquila disaster is that it is a myth that the quickness and speed at which reconstruction is implemented correspond to efficiency and communities are vital for the recovery process. Only through these means you can then say that you are rebuilding the city. Because otherwise you build only the buildings, and these will become empty temples.

Related Reading

Wall Street Journal:After Turkey’s Earthquakes, Erdogan Starts Rebuilding Over Objections” — “President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is racing to rebuild hundreds of thousands of homes after last month’s earthquakes, drawing criticism from municipal officials and engineers who say Turkey is repeating deadly mistakes of the past.”

National Library of Medicine: “The mechanism of disaster capitalism and the failure to build community resilience: learning from the 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila, Italy” — “This paper reflects on what materialized during recovery operations following the earthquake in L’Aquila, Italy, on 6 April 2009. Previous critiques have focused on the actions of the Government of Italy and the Department of Civil Protection (Protezione Civile), with little attention paid to the role of local authorities.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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