The death toll of Monday’s twin earthquakes that hit 10 provinces in southern Turkey has reached 29,605 according to the latest update of Turkish authorities shared on Sunday.
The authorities have already completed inspections for more than 170,000 buildings, identifying 24,921 of them as seriously damaged. Until now, the prosecutors have taken actions against 131 people, mainly contractors, as those responsible of collapsed buildings and issued arrest warrants for 130 of them and arrested one.
The incompetence of Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority’s (AFAD) in organising rescue work and distributing emergency humanitarian has provoked much criticism.
However, freshly surfaced evidence demonstrates that the emergency response authority was fully aware of the risks but failed in preparations.
Cevheri Güven, a journalist living in exile in Germany, on Saturday shared information about a disaster response exercise carried out by AFAD in 2019 in Kahramanmaraş.
The exercise was designed over a scenario of a possible 7.5 magnitude earthquake, identifying the province’s Pazarcık district as the epicentre. The district was the epicentre of the 7.8 magnitude tremor that shook the region on Monday.
The scenario identified Adıyaman, Gaziantep, Kahramanmaraş and Malatya as the provinces to be most affected from a possible earthquake, and Kilis, Osmaniye and Şanlıurfa as those that will be moderately affected. This information showed that the authority accurately predicted provinces that would be heavily destroyed by the earthquake, excluding the Hatay province in south Turkey.
A video about the exercise shows rescue teams arriving, people trying to escape from the tremor, police forces trying to calm down people, as well as 3D simulations of the seismic movements.
Meanwhile, geophysicist Övgün Ahmet Ercan on Saturday said that AFAD in 2021 identified Kahramanmaraş as an example case for provinces where measures to reduce earthquake risks will put into place.
“First they would take measures for Kahramanmaraş, then other cities would be made resilient,” said Ercan on Twitter. “I really want to know, what did they do in those two years,” he added.
The evidence also shows that senior positions in AFAD have been filled with incompetent people in recent years.
One of those names is İsmail Palakoğlu, the head of AFAD’s Disaster Intervention Directorate, a position he was appointed by the Turkish presidency on January 11. Palakoğlu graduated from a a religious vocational high school (imam-hatip) and then studied theology at university. He is the author of a book focusing on the life of a religious leader, who happens to be Palakoğlu’s father-in-law.
Palakoğlu started working for the foundation of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) in 2011. However, in 2018 he was appointed as the deputy head of AFAD’s Disaster Intervention Directorate.
Another name is Ahmet Nehar Poçan, the current head of AFAD’s Shelter and Construction Directorate. After a few years of experience in the private sector, Poçan was suddenly appointed as the head of the General Directorate of Security Affairs’ Construction and Real Estate Department by the approval of Süleyman Soylu, Minister of Interior. After three years in this position, Poçan was appointed to his current position in AFAD in 2022.
Poçan is married to the sister of Murat Kurum, Turkey’s Minister of Environment and Urbanisation.
Further evidence of problems in AFAD is the Turkish government’s rush in calling back Mehmet Güllüoğlu, the former head of AFAD Disaster Intervention Directorate, who was appointed as Turkey’s ambassador to Tanzania in 2020, to help disaster response work.
Unlike his successor, Güllüoğlu was totally competent for the job. He is a doctor who graduated from Marmara University’s Faculty of Medicine. He served as the head of the Turkish Red Crescent between 2013 and 2017, before he was appointed to AFAD.