Turkey and Syria will need to rebuild for years

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The recent 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Turkey and Syria has had a damaging effect, with the number of deaths rising all the time. Drone footage and satellite imagery have painted a clear picture of the widespread disaster in the affected area, which spans two countries.

The disaster is massive in scope, with the affected area expected to be the size of France. The International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) has emphasised the importance of providing people with immediate help. The disaster has highlighted the critical importance of being prepared and resilient in the face of natural disasters.

The earthquake’s effects in Turkey and Syria have resulted in a growing humanitarian crisis that could affect up to 23 million people.

The full extent of the damage

According to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, it has yet to be revealed. To reduce the suffering of those affected, the response to this disaster must be swift and effective.

The effects of the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria necessitate not only immediate relief efforts but also long-term rebuilding efforts. Turkey’s earthquake history provides an opportunity to learn from and improve on previous rebuilding efforts.

The challenge now is to ensure that these lessons are implemented and that both sides of the border put in the same level of effort.

Turkey’s history is repeating itself

The death count from the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria has now surpassed 22,000 people. Many people are angry and angry because they believe the government failed to prepare for such a disaster. The immediate focus must be on relief efforts and helping local people; however, in the long run, a critical examination of disaster preparedness and response must take place to avoid future incidents.

Those affected by the earthquake were frustrated by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to the Kahramanmaras region, near the location of the earthquake. Despite acknowledging shortcomings in the government’s response, Erdogan emphasized that being fully prepared for such a tragedy was impossible. He stated that he aims to rebuild the affected areas within a year, but experts say that the process could take much longer.

For many who remember the devastating 1999 Izmit earthquake, the recent earthquakes in Turkey and Syria have reopened old wounds.

For economist Ajay Chhibber, who was World Bank director for Turkey at the time, the recent earthquakes in Turkey and Syria triggered memories of the 1999 Izmit earthquake.

He compares the current disaster to a “bad movie remake.” The 7.6 magnitude quake in 1999 lasted 45 seconds and struck the country’s densely populated northwest, killing 17,000 people and leaving half a million people homeless.  The current earthquake serves as a reminder of the devastating impact earthquakes can have on communities, as well as the importance of continuing disaster preparedness and response efforts.

Economist Ajay Chhibber recalls the massive disaster he witnessed in the aftereffects of the 1999 earthquake. The scene was compared to that of World War II at the time by the Japanese and German ambassadors.

Buildings that had “flattened like pancakes” were among the end times scenes Chhibber witnessed in 1999. He remembered seeing “submarines thrown up out of the water, lying 300, 400 feet up a mountain” in Golcuk, where a naval base was located.

“There were submarines sitting there. It was unbelievable. “And what I’m seeing now is simply a redo,” he explained.

Because of the large number of collapsed buildings, the Turkish President’s goal of rebuilding within a year is being questioned. However, according to economist Ajay Chhibber, Turkey has the ability to move quickly if their efforts are effectively coordinated.

Chhibber was helpful in developing a four-step recovery plan in the aftereffects of the 1999 earthquake in Turkey. The plan provided financial help to those affected, aided in infrastructure and housing reconstruction, established an insurance system, and established an organized system for coordinated efforts.

During the 1999 earthquake, Chhibber, who was the World Bank’s director for Turkey, shared that Turkey’s recovery and reconstruction efforts were quick, with the majority of the work completed in just two years.

Ismail Baris, an Istanbul Uskudar University Professor of Social Work and former Golcuk mayor, stated that not only did private and public buildings collapse in the city, but also the city’s transportation pipes, water supply network, sewage system, and storm water system, as well as 80% of the roads. The city’s total reconstruction took four years to complete.

According to Chhibber, the Turkish army was crucial in the rapid reconstruction of the area affected by the 1999 earthquake. When local administration failed, the army was able to quickly clear rubble and help in reconstruction efforts.

“However, Izmit is in Turkey’s heartland,” Chhibber noted. Many Kurds live in earthquake-affected areas, and bringing in the army may cause problems.

Because of its history of abuse of power, the army’s involvement in the reconstruction process has raised concerns. According to Professor Ilan Kelman of University College London, the Turkish government faces a massive challenge.

“Understandably, the Kurds and many Turks in that region would be very hesitant to have the army in the streets even more than they have been,” he said.

According to experts, it is critical for authorities to analyze the reasons for modern buildings’ failure to withstand the recent earthquake. Even after strict regulations were enacted in the aftereffects of the 1999 disaster, many newly constructed apartment buildings collapsed. A review is required to determine what went wrong and to improve future construction standards.

According to Sinan Ulgen, a former diplomat, despite awareness of the need for preparations, little progress has been made in Turkey over the last two decades. Unfortunately, these plans have mostly remained on paper and have not been effectively implemented. This highlights the importance of taking action to address this issue and effect meaningful change.

Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat, recently spoke out about the country’s unsuccessful use of disaster recovery funds. He stated that, while regulations have improved, the main challenge is a lack of enforcement. The money collected for city reconstruction was wasted and did not reach its  intended destinations. Ulgen emphasised that the key to addressing this issue and improving cities’ ability to withstand natural disasters is to enforce regulations. He urged Turkey to step up efforts to enforce regulations and ensure that funds are used for their intended purposes.

According to Chhibber, Turkey failed to learn from past mistakes and enforce building regulations, resulting in the current disaster. The government has authorised “construction amnesties,” which allow projects without proper safety requirements to proceed for a fee, with the most recent one passed in 2018. This lack of enforcement, according to Chhibber, has contributed to the current tragedy. He emphasised the importance of stricter enforcement of building codes in the future to avoid such disasters and ensure citizens’ safety.

Building amnesties, he said, were a “huge issue.”

According to the source, building regulations are routinely ignored in Turkey, with builders confident that politicians will grant them amnesty through “construction amnesties” in the future. This system undermines building code enforcement and is a major issue that must be addressed.

The Justice Minister of Turkey has announced the start of investigations into builders in earthquake-prone areas. Bekir Bozda, the Minister, stated that anyone found to have committed flaws, negligence, or deficiencies would be held accountable and brought to justice. This action is a step towards holding builders and developers accountable for their actions and protecting citizens from potential harm in future earthquakes.

Syria’s crisis continue to increase

Because of the ongoing conflict and desperate humanitarian situation in Syria, rebuilding efforts will be greatly complicated. Syrians are facing “nightmares on top of nightmares,” according to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. The World Food Programme has also declared the situation in northwest Syria as a “catastrophe on top of catastrophe”. These desperate situations highlight the critical need for effective solutions to aid reconstruction and improve the lives of those affected by the crisis.

“In Syria, we have the perfect humanitarian storm,” said Caroline Holt, IFRC director of disasters, climate, and crises.

According to the UN, over 4 million people in war-torn Syria rely on humanitarian aid. The recent earthquake has impacted the people’s already horrible situation. Many residents, who had been deeply hurt by years of war, people mistake the earthquake for the sound of warplanes at first. The harsh winter conditions have made things worse for those who have been suffering for the past 12 years.

As Holt pointed out, the ability of these people to withstand harsh conditions has been seriously reduced after years of constant pain and insecurity. The situation highlights the crucial need for support and assistance to reduce the pain of those affected by the conflict and the earthquake.

The political situation in Syria has complicated disaster relief efforts. Various factions control the earthquake-affected areas, including the Assad regime, Turkish-backed and US-backed opposition forces, Kurdish rebels, and Sunni Islamist fighters. These political internal divisions impair recovery efforts and create logistical challenges that must be overcome in order to provide help and support to those in need.

“The war – or conflicts – in that part of Syria are considerably worse than the conflict – or conflicts – in that area of Turkey,” Kelman said.

Turkey has a stronger government and military than Syria, which is currently at war. Furthermore, Turkey has better pre-earthquake resources and has not been impacted by a major conflict or sanctions. In comparison to Syria, these factors place Turkey in a better position to deal with the effects of the earthquake.

In Syria, the government requires that all help be routed via Damascus, even aid for places outside its control. However, help delivery to rebel-held territory in the northwest has been permitted, but no schedule for distribution has been set. Sanctions have hampered humanitarian help, making recovery efforts more difficult.

Aid workers in Syria face major challenges in providing relief to affected families. Because of the government’s control over the flow of help and its history of redirecting material intended for rebel-controlled areas, relief workers are dependent on a single road, the Bab al-Hawa crossing, to bring in resources.

Due to a shortage of technology and a limited quantity of fuel, relief workers must rely primarily on physical labour. The situation in Syria reflects the limitations of providing relief in a politically divided country with a long history of humanitarian crises.

Syria’s recovery efforts following the earthquake have been hampered by a lack of resources and cooperation due to political difficulties. The disposal of garbage and rubble is an important initial step, but it can pose environmental risks or become an advantage if done correctly.

The problems in obtaining relief and resources to the impacted areas will slow the recovery process and make meeting the basic needs of those affected by the disaster difficult.

According to the IFRC director, recovery in Syria will take 5-10 years, compared to 2-3 years in Turkey. The differences in resources and political situations will have a significant impact on the timeline of recovery.

Coming Years

Earthquakes can cause damage, but they also provide an opportunity to prevent future crises. As seen in the aftermath of the 1999 Izmit earthquake, the effects of earthquakes are not uncontrollable. Some structures survived, while others were destroyed, as shown in Gaziantep, Turkey.

The severity of an earthquake’s impact, according to Chhibber, is mostly controlled by man-made factors such as the implementation of adequate construction rules. Buildings that do not meet these standards are more likely to collapse, inflicting widespread damage. The latest earthquake in the region emphasizes the significance of implementing construction rules to prevent disaster size.

Kelman sees disasters as a potential for change and advocates using disaster response as a tool for promoting peace through “disaster diplomacy”. He believes that dealing with disasters can lead to the end of conflicts.

However, not all governments take advantage of these chances.

“We do have situations where citizens have taken advantage of the chance to say there has been a calamity, and we want to help people, so let’s attempt to rebuild in such a way that we promote peace,” Kelman said.

“At the moment, I don’t see either government responding in that way, neither do I see the rest of the world responding in that way.”

Kumud Sharma

Kumud Sharma is the First Well-Known Female Journalist of the Journalism World of Himachal Pradesh. I am the Founder, Editor in Chief, Managing Director, Promoter of Diary Times. As a Female Journalist, With My Experience of More Than Nine Years, I Tell You Every News of Himachal Pradesh From The Ground Level With Absolutely Accurate and Correct Information, Be it the Politics of Himachal Pradesh or the Ground Reality, My Perspective On Every News Will Give You Assurance. I Assure You That Every News of Mine Will Comply With the Expertise and Fact Checking Policy.