Prefab houses and tents are being sent to Elazig, the area in the east of Turkey that was hit by an earthquake early yesterday morning. And in the coming months, the people affected by the earthquake will have better houses than they had before. Not built of sun dried mud bricks like before, but of solid concrete.
In all the stories written about the numberof deaths being mourned, you hear how the people are poor in that region and that they have no means to built proper houses. True, very true, but would they build the most solid houses if they were rich? Okay, the houses would be better, but being rich and being able to buy or build a good house is not the only thing needed to protect yourself. You also have to feel the need for it. And I’m sure many people don’t feel that necessity. Not before you’ve experienced an earthquake yourself. And even if you have.
Look at Istanbul. Experts say the city will most certainly, be hit by a major earth quake in the next ten, twenty, thirty years. Everybody knows it. But does it mean that all the areas in town that are not safe are deserted? Does it mean only poor people who can’t afford a solid house live in areas of town that are unsafe in case the earthquake comes? No, not at all. In general, the European part is considered more dangerous, because it is not built on rock, as are most parts on the Anatolian side of the city. People have known that for centuries, and the old yalis (country houses) right by the Bosporus are built on the Anatolian part of town for exactly that reason. People don’t always look for the safest place to live, they look for an area of town that best fits their lives and lifestyle. Me too. My apartment is in a building built on a hill of solid rock and is safe. At the same time, it’s an old style Istanbul house, with the second and third floor deeper than the ground floor, which is the worst you can have during a quake: the shape of the house intensifies the shaking of the house instead of reducing it. I don’t know what will happen to my house when the expected earthquakes hit the city.
Are we all stupid, not making a hundred percent sure we live in a safe house? Are we stupid living in this city? Am I stupid I still haven’t run my errands yet? The answer to the last question is of course ‘yes, a little bit’, but to the other ones: no. The fact is: you cannot live your normal everyday life with a destructive earthquake constantly in the back of your mind. I thought of it when I was getting some exercise in the sports school: my house is, I think, safe, but what if this building isn’t and the quake comes right now? I’d be dead – maybe. Or injured, and taken to a hospital, if there was any hospital bed available: ninety percent of the hospitals in Istanbul would collapse during a quake, according to a report published recently.
I would never say people have no responsibility for their own safety, even in these sort of tragic events. But exactly because it is so huge, and because it can be so devastating and because it is hard to really control our own safety, the state has a huge task. Force construction workers to follow the laws on solid construction Force state buildings to strengthen their structures so they won’t collapse. Spend money on making poor people’s houses strong, encourage the rich in any way to improve their property. All these things are just not done. And I’m afraid the earthquake in Elazig will change nothing about that.
What I don’t understand is why there isn’t a communal memory of earthquakes in a country as earthquake-prone as Turkey. I wonder is it to do with the fact that history is seen as the realm of the elite and that villages or towns don’t write their own versions. But still I would expect that there would be stories; back in the quake of xxxx year, the belediye collapsed so it was rebuilt up there and survived the next big one, for instance. I would expect it to be built into the local folklore. Instead it seems the same mistakes are made repeatedly with little effort made to learn from them.
You bring up the angst that we face all too well. It is not IF the big one will come to Istanbul, but WHEN.
Emily Schmall has an interesting comparison of the ’99 quake in Istanbul and Taiwan – good reading http://www.aolnews.com/world/article/poverty-predicts-quake-damage-better-than-richter-scale/19376567