Statistics and policies as well as technical processes and reports are so cruel that even in an event like an earthquake, they teach us bitter life lessons. An earthquake is actually an opportunity for help and solidarity. But at the same time, it is the moment when fake plaster falls down from the cracks it was meant to cover. For this reason, earthquakes are very political.
The earthquake that happened on Friday in the Aegean city of İzmir has left us with plenty of events, data and bad memories. Is this called an “earthquake policy” when two cabinet ministers are sent to the earthquake-hit area, like sending a wreath of flowers? What kind of policy is it when a cabinet minister grabs the phone of a rescue worker and climbs up to the top of the rubble? What would you say to AFAD, the Disaster and Emergency Management Agency of Turkey, asking for aid by SMS in the first hours of the earthquake for boxes of food and blankets? What about AFAD sending 3 million lira of “emergency relief funding” to the region? Three million lira.
Beyond all this, how good is it to respond after the earthquake has already struck? We should really look at what has happened before. The recent İzmir earthquake inflicted the most damage to the Bayraklı and Bornova districts. While Bornova was a former agricultural area and a wetland, Bayraklı was on an alluvial plain. Most of the destruction occurred there. Now, this is something else. It is a clear indication of how public works policies have been overthrown in time.
It is a fact that special taxes for earthquake relief have been collected for decades, right?
After the Elazığ earthquake in January 2020, we all wrote about how the state has collected 67.5 billion lira after the major 1999 earthquake through the Special Communication Taxes. This meant, in 2019 figures, more than140 billion liras had been collected for the tax. With this much allocation of resources, not just our country’s but the entire world’s earthquake issues could have been solved.
But the government has sent 3 million liras of emergency aid and two of its cabinet ministers to İzmir. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. If disaster management had been correctly conducted, would there be any need for earthquake money?
Taxes spent on asphalt and concrete in İzmir
Obviously, the state does not spend the earthquake tax revenue on earthquakes. Well, where does it spend it? Let us focus on İzmir in particular.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) conducted a study on “performance” before the 2018 general elections. From that study, we know that 76.5 billion lira was allocated to İzmir from the central budget. Of this sum, only 1.4 billion lira was directed towards health purposes. That was all. For the Mass Housing Administration (TOKİ), 4 billion lira was spent. In other words, TOKİ means more than education and health for a resident of İzmir because TOKİ alone has spent more than those two ministries combined. When we look at urban infrastructure, there is 13 billion lira allocated for concrete. For transportation, 17 billion lira has been spent. Very roughly, in İzmir, for every two liras worth of tax money, one lira was spent for asphalt and concrete.
We know that the money collected has not been used for earthquake-related issues. It has been spent on AK Party’s capital transfer policies through asphalt and concrete. Well, what about the disaster and earthquake policies?
There are two golden pieces of data available here. First is the 2012 national earthquake strategy. Professors and earthquake experts prepared a strategy that we can call the “do nothing strategy.” For instance, while the Culture Ministry is in charge of five actions, the Environment and Urbanization Ministry is also responsible for five assignments. The most serious of them all is that the ministry will enact a law on “building codes and urban transformation.” Everybody knows that the Environment and Urbanization Ministry has done nothing related to earthquakes, but they were successful in applying this law in order to knock down houses in particular areas in Ankara, a city that has a low earthquake risk but a high profit margin. Based on this urban transformation regulation, Ankara’s Saraçoğlu neighborhood was to be demolished. We know that the entire complex of conservatory buildings at Beştepe was demolished because of an earthquake risk in one building. This is so much the case that not just government ministries in Ankara but district municipalities ruled by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) have also turned the city into a construction site based on this regulation.
However, the worst piece of data is the second one. The AK Party wants the earthquake to occur very soon — the sooner, the better. If there is a lot of destruction, then that means even more construction.
How does İzmir rank in illegal construction?
Minister of Environment and Urbanization Murat Kurum told state-run Anadolu Agency on February 27, 2020 that some 7.4 million illegal buildings applied for “development amnesty” and paid 24.7 billion lira. The state was to pardon illegal buildings because there was “peace” declared within development.
A new story has revealed that the number of irregular building owners in İzmir who have applied to be pardoned was 811,000. If all these applications were accepted, then one out of nine illegally-constructed buildings in the country happen to be in İzmir. This actually shows us how easy it is to create irregular buildings, such as by removing load-bearing columns in buildings that were previously properly constructed.
Does the AK Party want an earthquake?
The AK Party has spent 1 lira of each 2 lira it has spent in İzmir on asphalt and concrete. The money collected up to now, which corresponds to 140 billion lira, has not been spent on the issue of earthquakes. As if that were not enough, it has pardoned illegal constructions in exchange for 24.7 billion lira, and they have called this “peace with development.” It has collected money and it has also developed policies that mean that the destruction from the earthquake will be worse. İzmir also has become a partner-in-crime with its 811,000 irregular and illegally-constructed buildings; it has also created and applied the strategy of how not to prepare for an earthquake. While these things were happening, the earthquake-related regulations were not used to improve earthquake zones.
It seems as if the government is happy that the earthquake has struck, as each demolition means the construction of a new building and a new transfer of property. However, on the other hand, it is very afraid of social objection. The government sends two ministers to each disaster zone, but leader of the AK Party, President Erdoğan, went to the Black Sea town of Giresun recently and distributed tea packages. Now, they had to call Erdoğan to İzmir.
The government has no problem with the opposition parties. The number of municipalities that do not support the urban transformation lie is almost zero. The number of opposition parties that monitor the disaster policies by the government is also zero. We also do not have a political party that has and implements a disaster policy.
But again, the government is very much afraid of people who question, get organized and generate policies, more than it is afraid of anything else.