Where is the money that was collected for earthquake relief? Where could it have gone in a city like Elazığ, eastern Turkey, which is located on tectonic fault lines? In fact, by the time we’re able to answer this question, we will have understood further questions related not only to the Elazığ earthquake but to the expected major Istanbul earthquake and to the country’s climate policies. 

Thanks to a Special Communication Tax that was introduced after the 1999 earthquake that was later made permanent, some 67.5 billion Turkish Liras have been collected up to now for earthquake relief. When converted to 2019 values and prices, this figure corresponds to 140,171,000,000 liras. 

Yet this money has not been spent on earthquake relief and preparedness. As it went into the general budget, it is impossible to determine exactly how it was spent. The former Minister of Finance Mehmet Şimşek once said the money had been spent on education, health and infrastructure. But the state has withdrawn from the sectors of health and education to a great extent, though it continues to build highways.

The sum should have amounted to 140.2 billion liras and if one looks deeper into state expenditures, one understands what minister Şimşek meant. In 2018, prior to the elections, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) issued a report on its performance. I conducted a general analysis of this study entitled “Confessions of the AK Party” (AK Parti’nin itirafları: İcraatlar) before the election on June 24 that same year.  

That report clearly shows that the AKP chose to allocate resources to asphalt and concrete in urban areas.

A similar examination can be conducted for Elazığ. As of 2018, Elazığ had a population of 595,683 of which some 350,000 lived in urban areas. Up to 2018, 18.1 billion liras were invested into city. But within 17 years, only 171 million liras had been allocated to the health of Elazığ’s residents. Virtually no money had been spent on health in this province. Instead, the state allowed construction companies to take over the field through the construction of city hospitals.  

More money was spent on education, though, amounting to a total of 450.1 million liras, most of which went to the construction of schools. The AK Party is so proud of its school constructions that it boasts of 2,289 classrooms being built in their era. Yet with 10 schools that were damaged and knocked down following the earthquake, it again seems that money was spent not on education, but on contractors.

Quite obviously, the state has not invested for people of Elazığ. But if it has neglected education and health, where did the money go? To asphalt and concrete.

The state has spent 1 billion 200 million liras through TOKİ, Turkey’s Mass Housing Administration. Still, one cannot say this served to build houses, as rental aid was only granted to 682 families. Instead, TOKİ money was spent on such investments as the “Millet Bahçesi” – city parks and public gardens designed by the AKP.  

The state spent 3 billion liras through İlbank, a state-owned development and investment bank. The bank has spent 435 million liras itself, and with the rest of the money, it funded special provincial administration and municipality expenditures. If it remains questionable whether or not it has solved the city’s infrastructure problem, there is no question that adequate resources have been allocated to contractors. 

The state has spent 3 billion and 710 million liras on transportation and communication projects. Assuming this was spent on communication, one would imagine Elazığ to be endowed with a space satellite: India sent a satellite to Mars that cost 73 million dollars. And as 3.7 billion Turkish liras is worth approximately 950 million dollars, we could had sent more than 10 satellites into space! Yet Elazığ does have one.

In short, in 17 years, 18.1 billion liras were spent in Elazığ, though not on earthquake preparedness. While little money was spent on health and education, 8 billion liras were spent on concrete works such as city parks and double highways.