20 years of negligence by Turkish authorities and a failure to learn from history have made the scale of destruction in the 6 February earthquakes disturbingly unsurprising, the international media agree.
CNN International questioned what led Turkey, a country with frequent tremors and strict construction rules, to face an aftermath of over 36,187 deaths, together with thousands of collapsed or severely destroyed buildings in 11 southeastern provinces that left millions homeless.
Many in Turkey accuse Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government of a failure to prepare for the catastrophic event, said the CNN International senior producer Lauren Said Moorhouse on 12 February, a fact geologists confirm as well, as the title of her story suggests: “Experts say it didn’t have to be this way.”
“Turkey has suffered earthquakes in the past, and has rebuilt. But how much can be learnt from this history and will these lessons be implemented?” asked Moorhouse, recalling the 7.4-magnitude tremor in 1999 which shook northwestern İzmit, the industrial heartland on the outskirts of Istanbul.
Killing at least 17,000 according to the official figures, the memory of the İzmit earthquake is still harrowing for many people in Turkey today, although the event culminated in modernised and quake-adopted construction regulations, she said.
However, tighter regulations in the Turkish construction industry and the general public’s greater earthquake awareness in the years following İzmit were not enough to prevent history from repeating itself, almost a quarter-century later. 20 years of which has passed under Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule.
“The country has strict rules that came into place after 1999 – construction regulations were implemented that required the more modern builds to be able to withstand these quakes,” said the CNN senior producer, “yet many of the apartment blocks within the [6 Feb] earthquake zone appeared to have been newly-constructed and still collapsed.”
“It’s like a bad movie [that’s] come back again,” commented Ajay Chhibber, a World Bank director for Turkey in the 90’s involved in Turkey’s implementation of a four-part recovery plan after the İzmit disaster.
“Turkey hasn’t learnt from the lessons of the past or questioned why there was a failure to enforce building regulations,” Chhibber told Moorhouse, pointing to the AKP’s so-called ‘construction amnesties’, which he described as “essentially legal exemptions that, for a fee, allowed for projects without the necessary safety requirements.”
“They just go ahead and make the building” said Chhibber, “They don’t follow the code. They know that at some point some politicians – because they’re financing their political parties – they’ll grant them amnesty.”