Zoning Amnesty Laws Prove Deadly in Turkey Earthquake Aftermath

By Aisha Siddiqa Hassim, age 13

The wreckage of a collapsed building, Diyarbakır, Turkey, Feb. 6. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this year, parts of Turkey and Syria faced two catastrophic earthquakes. The combined effects of these earthquakes were disastrous and resulted in the death of over 50,000 people. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is facing criticism over the lack of preparedness and slow response after the earthquakes. The Turkish government is also under fire due to zoning amnesty laws that acted as possible contributors to the climbing death tolls.

The deadly magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck southeast Turkey near the Syrian border on Feb. 6. Then, on Feb. 20, they were hit again with another earthquake, this time with a magnitude of 6.4. The earthquakes injured over 100,000 people and left 2.4 million people across Turkey and Syria in need of shelter. 

Many factors contributed to the extremely high death toll. The earthquake happened before dawn, which meant people were still asleep, and damage to hospitals caused a hindrance to medical relief. The majority of the damage happened in northern Syria, an area which has been ravaged by war, meaning that the infrastructure and people in this region were already weakened. There was difficulty getting aid into northern Syria because the land is being held and controlled by rebel and Kurdish groups. 

Weak infrastructure also played a key role in the high death toll in Turkey. Many of the buildings were weak as a direct result of loose zoning amnesty laws, which allowed construction companies across the region to put up buildings without planning permission or proper safety regulations in place. These are usually allowed by authorities for short-term financial, economic or political gain. 

Reconstruction is estimated to cost $70.8 billion, according to the Turkish Enterprise and Business Confederation. Experts say that rebuilding should happen with worsening climate change and earthquakes in mind. Buildings can be redesigned to withstand weather conditions by making use of insulation, thinking about sun exposure, building reflective roofs, and installing window treatments.

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