Unfortunately, mining accidents and earthquakes happen often in Turkey. While both accidents and earthquakes are by definition unintentional, the severity of the consequences is down to human neglect. And decreasing bad practice is only possible through versatile cooperation and raising awareness.
Many other countries experience violent earthquakes and mine accidents as often as Turkey does but yet do not suffer the same loss of life. It is important to underline and expose the country's lack of infrastructure and its inability to get up to speed with the rapid development in mining technology.
In retrospect things have at least improved, even if it is not nearly enough. More than 17,000 people died in the 1999 earthquake due to problems stemming from deficiencies in infrastructure, supervision and legal regulations.
As a country located in a seismically-active area, Turkey did not take the required measures and supervisions to mitigate the effects of such a strong earthquake. The poor state of buildings that weren't earthquake-proof caused the death of 17,000 people. A natural disaster it may have been, but the sheer scale of the death toll was down to neglect.
After the earthquake, investigations showed that no insurance work and disaster planning had been made and the medical services were unable to help the injured. The roads leading to the earthquake area were blocked for days; and the then-Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit and President Süleyman Demirel remained incapable of doing anything to help. The tents used by the Turkish Red Crescent were several years old and torn while citizens were ill-informed on how to react in such a situation. In the post-disaster chaos, the state failed to reach out to citizens and assist.
Last week, we lost 301 coal miners after the tragedy in Soma. The reaction to the incident has at least shown that post-disaster assistance has improved since 1999, even if the ability to dodge regulations remains just as strong. According to the Labor and Social Security Minister Faruk Çelik, the families of the victims would be put on a salary. Also the state has covered the costs of funerals and the employment records of 282 people were sent to the social security institution within two days for them to enjoy various benefits. The National Education Ministry announced that it would assist the children of victims, helping to find scholarships.
So, what does all this mean? Was the country in 1999 earthquake the same country as the one in the 2011 Van earthquake and 2014 Soma tragedy, where it carried out its postdisaster role ably and assisted the families of the dead? The increase in the state's capacity to conduct the post-disaster relief efforts and find solutions more rapidly is a pleasing improvement that should be expected from responsible, social states.
However, this alone is not enough. We all accept that it is the state's responsibility to enact laws that prevent loss of life caused by human neglect, and introduce new control mechanisms. So far, Turkey has enacted many binding laws, regulations and legislations on these two subjects. The real matter is to create an infrastructure, administratively and tangibly, that can withstand accidents and natural disasters.
The unions that find the control mechanism of the state insufficient have a role to play, acting as a watchdog. The enacted legislations and regulations, the improved assistance opportunities and the measures favoring workers have to take precedence over the capitalist benefits.
Many steps have been taken in terms of post-disaster intervention, now we just need to make progress in pre-disaster preparations.
About the author
Meryem İlayda Atlas is Editorial Coordinator of Daily Sabah. She is board member of TRT, the national public broadcaster of Turkey. Atlas also serves as a visiting scholar at Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University.