The Turkish government on Monday announced an ambitious construction plan to re-home survivors after twin earthquakes hit 10 provinces in Turkey’s south on 6 February.
The government plans to start construction work as early as March, despite clear warnings from experts that the region will be continuously jolted by aftershocks, and that construction should therefore be halted for at least a year.
Sites for new residential builds have already been determined and preliminary soil investigation reports prepared, while the authorities are also busy with completing damage assessments before demolishing the heavily damaged buildings in the area, said Murat Kurum, the Minister of Environment, Urbanisation and Climate Change.
“Construction work will start in all earthquake-hit regions in three or months at the latest. We will oversee the whole process,” Kurum said.
Turkey’s housing agency TOKİ will lead the implementation of reconstruction works. The government plans to replace the damaged mainly high-rise residential stock in earthquake-affected provinces with three or four storey apartment buildings in a period as short as one year.
The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was the first to express the intention to complete the construction plan within the year. The president said on Monday that instead of reinforcing existing buildings, they would build up damaged cities from scratch.
“We are designing all residential areas according to a new urbanisation plan, taking into account the quality of the soil, the distance to fault lines, and according to the cities’ cultural fabric. We want to move the city centres from lowlands to highlands. We are working in consultation with academics of geophysics, geotechnics, geology and seismology as well as earthquake experts working in our universities,” Erdoğan said.
The government’s plan include the building of 40,426 residences in Hatay, 45,067 in Kahramanmaraş and 25,882 in Adıyaman, three provinces that were largely destroyed by the twin earthquakes.
Erdoğan asked citizens to give his government a minimum of one year time to complete the rehousing plans.
Meanwhile, a new quake centred in the city of Antakya in south Turkey rocked the region once again on Monday night, causing panic among residents.
Many feared for those who had sought refuge in damaged buildings to escape from the freezing cold due to lack of sufficient tents and containers. Some six people died in Monday’s earthquake according to official figures, while many already damaged buildings collapsed or weakened further.
According to earthquake experts, the region will be continuously hit by strong aftershocks or new earthquakes for at least one year. Many experts therefore disagree with government’s rush to start construction in the region that is home to 13,5 million people.
Naci Görür, a prominent professor of geology, warned that pouring concrete is not safe as long as strong aftershocks continue. According to experts, a strong aftershock can seriously weaken recently poured concrete, damaging the structure of the building.
Meanwhile, many in Turkey also question the redesign of the towns in earthquake-hit provinces.
A video showing Ahmet Özdemir, a lawmaker of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and lawyer by profession, sitting with others on a table sketching a new urban design for the province of Kahramanmaraş, went viral on social media on Monday, with many claiming that it is a proof of the lack of seriousness and competence in the government’s efforts to rebuild cities.
In addition to technical issues, the redesign of earthquake-hit cities and towns can raise cultural issues. The tremor damaged region in Turkey was already coping with conflict over ethnical and religious identities.
Many people of Kurdish descent and the followers of the Alevi faith are wary that the government might try to use the earthquake as an opportunity to change the demographics of their ancestral lands.