There have been disasters in every period of history. As the time, place and nature of a disaster are not known they can have a much greater economic, social, physical and spiritual impact, especially If they take place in densely-populated areas.
The number of disasters has risen since the Industrial Revolution due to factors such as rapid population growth and unplanned urbanization. Its destructive effects have gradually increased.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as a result of natural disasters such as floods, droughts and earthquakes, an average of 90,000 people die and 160 million others are affected by these disasters around the world every year.
Droughts killed 3 million people in 1930, 1.9 million in 1943, 1.5 million in 1960 and 450,000 in 1983, while floods killed 3.7 million people in 1931 and 2 million in 1959.
However, earthquakes have had the biggest devastating impact in recent years, leading to a nearly 227,000 deaths in 2004 and 226,000 in 2010.
Since the 1900s, there has been an increase in the number of disasters, while there has been a decrease in the number of casualties thanks to the measures taken. However, economic losses are on the rise. In the short term, they have a big financial impact on local people and insurance companies.
The reconstruction of destructed areas, considered within the scope of physical impacts, requires huge costs.
The financial loss caused by natural disasters was $50 billion in 1980, according to German MunichRe, one of the world's largest reinsurance companies. However, financial losses have increased exponentially with each passing year and the total financial impact since 1980 has reached $5 trillion.
States and governments have begun to exert more and more efforts to mitigate and prevent these devastating effects. However, despite all the global measures, although they have declined in number, the effects of disasters on these points have increased due to factors such as the growth of population and cities. There has been an increase in the population affected and in financial losses incurred.
What about Turkey?
Turkey is located in the Mediterranean-Himalayan earthquake zone, where the world's major fault lines cross, making it the world's second-most earthquake-prone region. Besides, we are a country where many natural disasters, such as floods, landslides, etc. are experienced often.
Population growth, rural-urban migration and unplanned urbanization are unfortunately some of the main issues that could increase the effects of possible disasters.
Likewise, the occurrence of disasters in major cities increases the impact area and causes damage to grow exponentially.
Our country has been experiencing an increase in migration from villages to cities since the 1950s. In 1950, only 26% of the population lived in cities, but today this rate has soared to 75%. The population rate in the provincial and district centers has reached 92.8%.
There are 22 cities exceeding 1 million in population in our country, where the total population reached 83 million as of the end of 2019. Of these, Istanbul accounts for about one-fifth of the country's population with 15 million, and the Marmara region accounts for 30% of the population.
100,000 casualties in 120 years
According to the Turkish Disaster Information Bank, approximately 50,000 disasters that took place in our country from 1900 to 2018, with one-third of them being landslides, resulted in some 100,000 casualties and more than 60,000 injuries. In addition, 1,337,000 buildings were damaged and 108,000 others were destroyed in the same period.
Of all these, the most deadly and devastating impact was undoubtedly caused by a total of 3,368 earthquakes that occurred during this time.
The biggest loss in recent history was undoubtedly the Gölcük (Marmara) earthquake, which took place in 1999. There were 44,000 injuries in addition to 17,500 casualties.
Considering the data of the last 60 years, the direct or indirect impact of disasters on our country's economy is as much as 3% of gross domestic product (GDP).
The total economic loss caused by natural disasters in the period 1980-2018 is estimated to be at least $26 billion.
Risk level is high
Our country is among the countries that have a “high-risk level” with 5.0 points out of 10 points according to INFORM Risk Management Index data for 2020, which includes 191 countries on a global scale.
In the category of hazard and exposure, which constitutes one of the sub-titles, it ranks 10th among 191 countries with a score of 7.9 out of 10. Moreover, in terms of the possibility of an earthquake, which is the biggest natural disaster, there is a very high risk of facing a big earthquake at 9.7 points, while the risk of flooding is 5.7 points.
All these facts show that first of all, major urban transformations and developments must be carried out, as well as strong, effective and periodic audits... It is not only about issuing building licenses but also about checking changes in the structure at certain times. This is necessary at least in buildings that are over a certain age or were built using old technology.
Well, what has been done regarding urban transformation and development in our country so far?
Studies after 1950
Yes, as almost all over the world, urban transformation and development studies date back to the 19th century, when the Industrial Revolution took place, but they mainly started after the 1950s. This is the period that was quite devastating due to two world wars in just 30 years. In the wake of world wars, in which 80 million to 90 million people lost their lives and great destructions hit the world, humanity went through development again.
The Industrial Revolution that had started previously moved into a new phase. Automation systems came into our lives. Industrial cities began to form. Yes, the first steps of urban transformation and development in our country were taken in the 1950s. After the transition to multi-party life, there was an increase in rural-urban migration due to the development of industrial cities and a liberal economy.
Back then, only 26% of the population lived in cities. Because of expectations of a more comfortable life, and better work-health opportunities and education, rural depopulation began. However, cities were unable to respond to these large migrations in their current state and demands for housing could not be sufficiently satisfied due to the lack of housing stock.
As a result, people developed their own solution and came up with structures called slums. To combat these, a "slum law" was enacted.
During the same period, in the 1960s, high-rise buildings came into our lives. For this reason, the "law of property ownership" was enacted. This law paved the way for the construction of a large number of houses in the same building. So to speak, we started to see high-rise buildings in our country under this law.
In the 1980s, the government itself aimed to address the need for housing. In this respect, the Housing Development Administration of Turkey (TOKI) was established. However, the results were not as expected and only around 43,000 houses could be completed until 2002.
Millennium started with disasters
At the end of the 1990s, we had catastrophes one after the other, first in 1998, then in 1999. While the world was preparing to enter a new millennium, the year 2000, with great enthusiasm, we were in sackcloth and ashes.
The first news of the disaster came from the north, from the Black Sea. Floods had hit the area caused by the famous rainfall of the region. The housing construction along rivers boosted the impact of the flood.
In many provinces such as Bartın, Zonguldak and Karabük, the flood affected more than 1.2 million people. Known as the Western Black Sea Flood, the disaster resulted in 17 casualties, and $1 billion in losses, according to General Directorate of State Hydraulic Works (DSI).
Just five weeks later, bad news came from the south this time. A 6.2-magnitude earthquake hit Adana on June 27, 1998, according to Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD). Unfortunately, the earthquake of this magnitude, which was not in fact in the destructive category, caused a lot of damage.
As a result of the earthquake, hundreds of people were injured, and 145 others died. The damage was not limited to this, either.
As many as 61,000 houses and 3,700 workplaces were damaged, with nearly 8,800 of them and 400 of them being heavily damaged, respectively.
Following the earthquake in Ceyhan, Adana, we experienced the second-largest and devastating earthquake after the Great Erzincan earthquake of 1939, which passed into history as the Marmara earthquake just months before 2000.
Earthquakes in Marmara
As a country, we have suffered a lot from earthquakes. The great Marmara earthquake was one of the first milestones of a transformation at this point. First, the “National Earthquake Council” was established. A law on "building inspection" was enacted in 2001 to establish an inspection system. It was revised several times to improve the effectiveness of the Zoning Law No. 3194.
Standards for earthquake-resistant housing were improved and regulations and guidelines were updated. An earthquake tax application was initiated to raise resources. In the same period, the Turkish Natural Catastrophe Insurance Pool (DASK) was also introduced, which is compulsory earthquake insurance to protect assets.
Period of transformation and development
Urban development and transformation were also highlighted during this period. Once again, the government made a move to take on responsibility for housing stock and transformation. And the significance of TOKI was highlighted once again.
As part of the “Planned Urbanization and Housing Production Mobilization” introduced in 2002, the effectiveness of TOKI was boosted.
Between 2002 and 2011 alone, 500,000 houses were built and handed over to their owners.
For the first time, a “Draft Law on Urban Renewal and Development” was presented to Parliament in 2004.
Municipal Law No. 5393 and Metropolitan Municipality Law No. 5216 were issued, and local governments were given the authority to carry out urban transformation. However, these authorities have not been used effectively.
Ministry of Urban Planning was founded
In July 2011, the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning was established. The main goal was the development of urbanization and preservation of environmental values.
Three months later, we were rocked by another disaster. This time on the eastern side of the country. On Oct. 23, 2011, there was a devastating 7.2-magnitude earthquake in Van. Unfortunately, we lost 604 people.
Subsequently, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gave the good news that urban transformation would be carried in our country at the expense of losing power and that risky areas would be renewed. In the following period, the Law No. 6306 on “The Transformation of Areas at Risk of Disaster” known by the public as the "Urban Renewal Law,” came into force. This was also announced as mobilization.
"Urban Renewal Mobilization"
However, it did not prove as successful as intended, since there are many players involved in the transformation. On one side is the Ministry, on the other hand, are local administrations – the main interlocutors of the issue. There are also the real owners and rights holders, and contractors who want to take advantage of this business.
Progress remained limited as it became a money-related issue rather than one about the safety and protection of property.
Here again, problems relevant to hierarchy and bureaucracy arose, especially on a local government basis. We have seen that local governments, one of the main players of urban transformation, did not focus on the issue enough. We figured out that municipalities did not embrace the issue enough, and they remained indifferent.
However, this issue is a matter of life and death for our country, which is now a land of disaster. It is not an issue that can be weathered by day-saving politics. It is a supra-political issue, like the one about the environment.
It is an issue that can be a reason for being elected in the future. Now, the era in which the number of concerts held and the number of sculptures built matters is over and should be over.
There is now a need for administrators who really prioritize the safety of citizens' lives and properties and who offer them comfortable and peaceful living spaces.
During this period, the ministry made many initiatives but the issue was underestimated due to the fact that the local governments were affiliated with other ministries, and the effectiveness of the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning was limited especially at the local government level.
Another factor was that TOKI, which actually carried out the urban transformation, was affiliated with the Prime Minister’s Office.
A strong urban planning ministry
These limited developments were also acknowledged by the will that brought a new age to the country. They made a move to resolve the issues preventing developments. After the presidential government system was introduced in 2018, TOKI and local governments were made an affiliate of the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning at the will of the president. This was undoubtedly a big step forward for urban transformation and development.
Developments came one after another. First, in September 2019, the Ministry publicly disclosed the "Urban Transformation Strategy Document and Plan" that it announced as an urban transformation constitution.
Of the 6.7 million houses needed to be transformed, at least 1.5 million are urgent and are expected to be completed by 2023.
So far, as part of the urban transformation mobilization declared in 2012, a total of 1,350,000 houses have been transformed. In other words, an average of around 200,000 houses have been transformed on an annual basis.
The new objective is to transform 1.5 million houses, which are considered to be urgent, by the end of 2023, which marks the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic. In other words, an average of around 400,000 houses will be transformed on an annual basis.
This will require much greater perseverance, zeal, diligence and more efficient work and joint action.
From crisis to risk
Undoubtedly, our country has gained many experiences and developed its infrastructure in the face of countless disasters it has gone through. It presents crisis management as a success in response to disasters.
While it was not possible to reach the disaster region for days during floods and earthquake disasters that took place in 1998-1999, we have seen that the state was present in disaster regions and mobilized all possible resources in a short time to reduce the impact of the recent earthquakes in Van and Elazığ and in floods in Akçakoca, Düzce.
Now, we should transfer our experience gained from crisis management to risk management. We should carry out studies to prevent possible disasters, the regions or structures that it may affect, to prevent possible damages and to minimize their negative effects in cases where these cannot be prevented.
The world is going in a different direction. The United Nations has adopted a 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The development of sustainable cities is the 11th of the 17 targets on the agenda.
We have already included this in our development plans. We have set it as a goal for ourselves. However, we do not see the implementation of it on the ground enough. We see that local authorities, who are mainly responsible for the issue, cannot shoulder enough responsibility.
As a matter of fact, according to some local media portals, urban renewal works have been planned in Elazığ’s Sürsürü district since 2017, but have not been implemented due to some problems. Let us noted that we suffered many casualties from the earthquake here as well.
This being the case, our mayors should now prioritize urban transformation and development, develop projects on this issue and invite the public to contribute to it.
One big earthquake every 10 years warns us to be better prepared next time. When we were startled by the 1999 earthquake, we felt like we were coming to our senses. We improved building standards and brought building supervision to the fore.
We took this one step further after the 2011 Van earthquake. We started an urban renewal campaign. Let 2020 Elazığ earthquake be a milestone and let us not wait for another big one.
A transforming Turkey
Our country must enter a period of transformation and development not later than tomorrow. And it must act with sincerity. Local governments, contractors and citizens should not be concerned about money, on the contrary, they should focus on the safety of life and property.
Our goal is not just to replace the demolished building, which would be a building transformation rather than an urban one, but we have to adapt the entire area to the conditions of the present day.
In doing so, we have to build structures and settlements in accordance with our own architecture and culture, which is what our ministry is aiming at now. Already, cities are our living spaces to which we have attached the greatest importance throughout history; they have become the symbol of our civilization and Anatolia is the home of the first settlements in history.
Earthquake preparedness does not involve strengthening housing alone. The transformation of cities should be achieved, instead of the transformation of buildings alone. It should include issues such as transportation, communication and infrastructure.
The goal of transformation should be to do better in all aspects. First of all, endurance, and then efficient use of resources such as energy and water.
Transformations where renewable energy sources are used, smarts systems come to the fore, lifestyles such as zero waste are put at the center of life.
Solar panels can now be used on roofs. Our country has a rich potential in terms of solar energy. Buildings that produce their own energy, buildings that collect and evaluate rainwater, buildings that use water resources efficiently with gray water application.
In addition, periodic inspections should be carried out and identification documents should be developed for buildings. Just issuing licenses should not be considered enough. Periodic inspections should be carried out to observe the change in structure at certain times.
Geography is destiny
As we enjoy blessings, we should of course deal with adversities. However, this does not mean “we can accept whatever happens to us.” We should take steps to prevent potential harm and reduce its effects, and act accordingly.
Just as Japan, an earthquake-prone country, has learned to live with earthquakes and has built cities accordingly, our country should develop itself to cope with all the other problems that have been mentioned here. We have that capacity as long as we want it, as long as we move in with peace of mind and as long as we develop sustainable solutions that can be used for generations, rather than make-shift solutions.
Let us be part of the solution, not the problem.
* Deputy Minister at the Republic of Turkey's Ministry of Environment and Urbanization, Chief Climate Change Envoy