A 7.8-magnitude earthquake that killed tens of thousands in Turkey’s southeast has stoked fears of an even more devastating death toll, hitting Istanbul if one has long feared.
Seismologists have warned that by 2030 Turkey’s largest city – officially home to 16 million people but estimated to be up to 20 million – is prone to a major earthquake.
The city lies on the northern edge of one of Turkey’s main fault lines and is densely packed.
In 1999 a 7.6-magnitude earthquake struck the city’s eastern outskirts, killing more than 17,000 people. Since then the number of Istanbulites has almost doubled.
Independent urban scholar Murat Güney said the massacre could have been avoided if the government had the political will to move people from the dilapidated buildings that filled the city’s slum towns.
Ghani said recently built vacant properties in Istanbul were in sufficient supply and strong enough to withstand major shocks.
He said that procrastination can spell doom.
“A major earthquake of up to 7.5 magnitude is expected to hit Istanbul. Such an earthquake could kill hundreds of thousands of residents, while estimates of the number of buildings that would collapse completely or be severely damaged range from 50,000 to 200,000.” It will happen,” Ghani told AFP.
“Those high-risk buildings, which are mostly squatter style and not earthquake resistant, require immediate alterations before they collapse even after a minor earthquake.”
rain of good news
The February 6 earthquake killed more than 38,000 people in southeastern Turkey and about 3,700 in neighboring Syria.
Officials say more than 55,000 buildings were either leveled or damaged beyond repair.
Its effects were felt in a part of Turkey that had the same population as Istanbul.
Ghani said that there are about 1,166,000 residential buildings in Istanbul.
“Of these, 817,000 buildings (70 per cent) were constructed before the 1999 earthquake, when there was no construction inspection regarding earthquake resistance,” he said.
But there was also good news: Ghani said that 150,000 earthquake-resistant properties built after 2008 in Istanbul were still empty.
“They either belong to construction companies waiting for customers, or they are second or third homes of the rich, who don’t bother to rent those apartments,” Ghani said.
“There is no need for further construction in Istanbul,” he said.
“The number of vacant buildings is sufficient for those who live in high-risk buildings … However, such a political decision has never been taken by the government.”
The 1999 earthquake prompted the government to impose a special levy known as the “earthquake tax”.
The money was meant to help make Turkish cities earthquake-resistant.
“However, that tax money was not used properly and efficiently,” Ghani said. “That particular tax money was used to cover other government spending.”
The Turkish government has not released any public details of how the money has been spent.
“Until now, most high-risk buildings were not covered by the urban transformation project,” Güney said.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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