The death toll in Turkey is updated to 31,643 on the eight day after two major earthquakes that hit ten provinces in the country’s south and southeast.
A week has passed since the devastating disasters, but rescue workers from Turkey and abroad are still working on collapsed buildings, trying to reach possible survivors.
Meanwhile, there are sectors of the Turkish public who are worried about whether the official figures are correct, and whether proper records are being kept for unidentified people being buried. The fact that Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), which has already been facing severe criticism for severe failings in emergency response, delayed its latest update by 19 hours has also raised eyebrows.
The official tallies are not wrong but incomplete, opposition outlet HalkTV reported, citing sources in the earthquake area.
Coşkun Atılğan, a lawyer from the earthquake-hit southern province of Hatay, told HalkTV that the bodies of the deceased have to be recorded and documented by a unit established in Narlıca district. He said that any bodies not taken to this unit will still show up as being alive in official records.
“People have been burying their relatives without official documentation in this chaos,” said Atılğan, adding that it is extremely difficult for people in other districts of Hatay to get to Narlıca for official documentation.
“The official death toll is incomplete. In any case they do not have to do anything to hide those numbers. People are burying their relatives without documentation. What is happening is a manipulative cover up,” the lawyer said.
“Unfortunately all those stories are true. People are being buried without official documentation, particularly in the villages and districts [away from the provincial centres],” a forensic scientist and a prosecutor from the earthquake area who did not wish to be named told HalkTV.
“People do not want to wait [to bury their dead]. Everybody is very tense. The official figures are not wrong. They are incomplete for now. The real death tally will be determined once the debris is cleared and things start to return to normal,” they said.
TÜRKONFED, a business association representing around 50,000 companies, said in a report that the death toll may reach as high as 72,663, and that the financial cost of the earthquakes could reach $84,1 billion.
The removal of the wreckage has also created confusion among the people. In some provinces, the work of clearing the debris has started, but people fear there may still be people under the rubble. On the other hand the smell of death is pervasive in all areas, and heaped-up rubbish and dead bodies pose the risk of possible epidemics, requiring the authorities to act rapidly.
While experts warn of the risk of epidemics due to rotting corpses, lack of clear water and toilets and people still out in the streets, the Turkish government on Sunday night issued a decree relating to health services., allowing pharmacies and companies selling medical equipment to operate from mobile vehicles and places decided by the city governors in the ten cities affected by the disaster.
Meanwhile, Turkish security forces continue to arrest contractors for whom arrest warrants have been issued by the prosecutors for negligence in construction work leading to the collapse of buildings in the earthquake-hit areas.
The prosecutors and the security forces are also busy pursuing cases of what they call disinformation on social media. The Turkish police on Monday announced that they had identified 475 account holders and arrested 14 of them for sharing provocative information on the earthquake on social media platforms. The police also said that they had been closing internet sites established after the earthquake to abuse survivors.
The Turkish authorities are also taking action against suppliers of provisions such as food and emergency shelters, who are charging inflated prices to profit from the disaster.
Meanwhile there are ongoing discussions as to whether presidential and parliamentary elections currently scheduled for 14 May will be held as planned. After the government declared a three-month state of emergency and the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told people to give him a year to make things right, many suspect that the elections may be postponed.
Gültekin Soysal, the leader of the centre-right Democrat Party, said on Sunday that Erdoğan’s announcement indicated that the president had the intention to combine the forthcoming presidential and parliamentary elections with local elections to be held in 2024.
HalkTV columnist Mehmet Tezkan wrote on Monday that there are different speculations on the date of the elections.
Some believe that elections will be held on 18 June, the date constitutionally set for the elections, while others argue that since the government will want to use the summer months to normalise the situation and settle the people, Erdoğan will try to postpone the elections as long as possible by declaring a nation-wide state of emergency.