No lessons learned, experts say on anniversary of Van earthquake

Twelve years passed since the devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Turkey’s eastern Van Province, killing 604 people. Experts argued that the government has not learned from the experience, and the region remains unprepared for another earthquake. 

Kadir Cesur / Gazete Duvar

On the 12th anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Turkey’s eastern province of Van, experts reflect on the measures taken by the government. They highlighted that the stance on earthquake preparedness, which has resulted in hundreds of casualties and thousands of people being displaced, has remained unaltered.

A 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Turkey’s eastern province of Van on Oct. 23, 2011. Days later, on Nov. 9, the region was further devastated by a 5.6 earthquake. Some 644 people died, 1966 were injured, and thousands of buildings were destroyed. Housing and heating were the most urgent needs of survivors due to harsh winter conditions. 

Container towns were built in the months after the earthquake, and government-subsided housing units were built and sold with installment plans to earthquake survivors. Now, 12 years later, all container towns are demolished but one. 70 families still reside in the container town in the Seyrantepe neighborhood. 

Bayram Akbaş from the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB) Van Organization evaluated that one-third of the buildings in Van would either collapse or incur serious damage in a mid-sized earthquake. 

'Rent seeking in construction critically increased after the earthquakes'

On the anniversary of the earthquake, the TMOBB Van Branch President Mihail Atik talked about what has changed and what remained the same about the construction in the city.

Atik stated, “Unfortunately the usual rent-seeking approach persists,” and posited that the urban transition that has been underway since the quake has only increased the earnings of contractors.

He added that new construction projects prioritize profit so much that the authorities paved the way for construction in the new areas above fault lines activated after the earthquake.

“The earthquake reality is thus ignored and forgotten,” Atik said and noted that the status of the buildings in the province was more critical than it was before the 2011 earthquake. 

'Education goes on in prefabricated schools'

Education and Science Workers Union (EĞİTİM-SEN) Van Branch President Murat Atabay talked about the unsolved problems in the field of education and evaluated the Education Ministry’s unchanged attitude towards earthquakes.

“The reconstruction, control, and delivery processes of demolished school buildings are just as problematic now as they were after the 2011 earthquake,” said Atabay and noted that some prefabricated school buildings put up 12 years ago were still in operation today.

Another problem with current school buildings is the lack of assembly areas that are necessary in the case of earthquakes. He stated that the newly built schools had increasingly small assembly areas that would not be enough during emergencies. 

'Employees, doctors, and the public alike are disgruntled'

Health and Social Service Workers Union (SES) Van Branch Board Member Figen Çolakoğlu evaluated that the problems experienced in the healthcare sector have intensified since the earthquake.

As the five public hospitals in the region were crammed into one after the earthquake, Çolakoğlu stated that “employees, doctors and patients alike are disgruntled about healthcare services.” She added that the hospitals, healthcare workers, doctors, and medical equipment in Van were not prepared for an earthquake. 

'There is no official report on the earthquake’s effect on the workforce'

The earthquake resulted in emigration and unemployment in the province, problems that still persist today. Employment expert Sinan Ok noted that there was no official report on how the earthquake affected Van’s workforce.

“Over 100,000 Van residents immigrated to large cities like İstanbul, Ankara, Antalya, and Bursa after the earthquake, and most remained there for the long term,” said Ok, and added that this trend stopped Van’s population growth.

Ok stated that illicit and precarious employment still persists in the province, and employers and workers alike are unprepared for a potential earthquake. 

All experts voice a similar concern, “the mentality ignoring the earthquake reality still prevails.”

(English version by Ayşenaz Toptaş)