By Selcuk Uysal
ANKARA (AA) - The risk of earthquakes in Istanbul should be turned into an opportunity to make the country’s financial hub safer and to improve the quality of life in the city, a former Turkish official said.
The 5.8-magnitude earthquake in Istanbul on Sept. 26 once again reminded the destructive effects of a possible high-magnitude earthquake in the city.
Turkey is a high-risk earthquake country, with over 66 percent of its population is under serious threat.
“Earthquakes are inevitable, but losses caused by them are mainly due to wrong choices and inadequate preparedness,” said Murat Sungur Bursa, former head of Turkish Prime Ministry’s Project Implementation Unit (PIU) that operated from 1999 to 2008.
“We must make right choices and take appropriate measures to minimize losses caused by disasters,” Bursa told Anadolu Agency.
After devastating Marmara earthquakes in August 1999, projects had been activated for rehabilitation works and for reconstruction and recovery purposes -- with funding coming from the World Bank, European Investment Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
The PIU was responsible for the implementation of those projects, where Murat Bursa was also involved in preparation and design of Istanbul Seismic Risk Mitigation and Earthquake Preparedness Project (ISMEP).
Marmara earthquakes in 1999 caused significant economic losses, estimated around $15 billion and claimed more than 17,000 lives.
- High-risk metropolitan cities
After the 1999 earthquake, many technical studies have been conducted to determine the seismic risks of Istanbul. Bursa reminded that Istanbul is among world’s high-risk metropolitan cities in terms of earthquake, together with Los Angeles, San Francisco and Tokyo.
Turkish Court of Accounts (TCA) report -- titled How well is Istanbul getting prepared for the earthquake -- published in 2002 show that ‘’there are approximately 1.2 million privately-owned and over 10,000 public buildings in Istanbul where more than half of current housing stock is either unlicensed or contrary to their licenses, and there is no possibility of deriving sound statistical information as most of the buildings are not registered.”
According to Tech Istanbul, an online monthly magazine published by Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, the current number of buildings is over 1.5 million (1,528,082) in Istanbul.
A study conducted in Istanbul by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), there are estimated 60,000 high-risk buildings and another 69,000 medium-risk buildings.
“High vulnerability of the building stock in Istanbul is making the situation even worse,” Bursa added.
Currently, the first responsibility is to determine the vulnerability of private buildings.
“Once the building is evaluated as high risk, then the legislation requires the evacuation of the building. The Ministry of Environment and Urbanization may also declare certain areas as ‘high disaster risk’ and initiate urban transformation projects,” he said.
- Successful disaster risk management project
The Turkish government, which made a strategic decision in 2005 and in close cooperation with the World Bank, prepared and initiated comprehensive earthquake preparedness project in Istanbul in 2006.
The Project called “Istanbul Seismic Risk Mitigation and Earthquake preparedness” (ISMEP).
ISMEP is being implemented under the Istanbul Governorate since 2006 with funding from World Bank, European investment Bank, European Council Development Bank, German Development Bank and Islamic Development Bank with a total portfolio of over $2 billion.
Bursa said ISMEP is internationally accepted as one of most comprehensive and most successful disaster risk management projects in the world.
With ISMEP, 1,049 school buildings, 54 hospital buildings, 61 health clinics, 38 dormitory buildings were reconstructed or retrofitted, and made safe, he noted.
Bursa said the 5.8-magnitude earthquake that Istanbul experienced on Sept. 26 was “a big warning.”
Naturally, it has triggered great attention and people are asking questions and seeking for solutions on how to be safe during the earthquake and minimize the damage that may be caused by it.
It is highly expected by the public that the state agencies cooperate better to determine the risk levels of all the buildings in Istanbul and implement proper financing mechanisms to realize higher pace preparedness for any possible future earthquake, he said.
“We still have a long way to improve the situation in Istanbul,” he said. “Earthquakes are inevitable, but losses are due to wrong choices. We must make right choices and prefer correct actions to minimize damage caused by disasters,” he said.