Tons of rubble and millions displaced: Turkey speeds up to rebuild an area larger than Portugal after the earthquake | International

A month and a half after the earthquake that rocked southeastern Turkey and northwestern Syria and killed nearly 60,000, bulldozers are still removing rubble and demolishing buildings. The task is daunting: they add up to around 200 million tons of remains of concrete, bricks, metals, and wood, according to calculations by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). In terms of volume, this rubble, piled up in piles one meter high, would occupy 100 square kilometres, that is, the area of ​​Barcelona.

Some 3.3 million people have been displaced by the earthquake in Turkey alone. Which is equivalent to the entire population of Madrid or the Barcelona metropolitan area. Many have gone to the western provinces of the country, where they live in the houses of relatives, hotels that have opened their doors to them, or university residences. But almost two million, according to data from the Turkish government, reside in camps for victims in the region of the earthquake, where, in addition, last week’s storms caused flooding and twenty deaths.

More than half a million houses have been destroyed by the earthquake or must be demolished due to the serious structural damage suffered. In addition, another 130,000 have sustained moderate damage and cannot be inhabited until extensively reinforced. Likewise, there are tens of thousands of public buildings ―from schools and hospitals to Administration offices― severely damaged, and also others of private ownership, from stables and farms to factories. But there is also damage to key infrastructures such as roads, airports, ports, railways, power lines and stations, dams and reservoirs… More than 1,000 kilometers of drinking water pipes and close to 2,000 kilometers of sewers have been damaged, as well as several sewage treatment plants and wastewater treatment plants.

“The magnitude of the destruction is tremendous. On the road from Nurdag to Antioch [a lo largo de la falla del sudeste de Anatolia] the only thing that changes in the buildings is if they are very touched or are on the ground. The size of the affected area is 110,000 square kilometers – a larger area than Austria or Portugal, and similar to Bulgaria – which creates a very big problem. It is not like in other places we have been, where you can concentrate the reconstruction work”, exemplifies Humberto López, director of the World Bank for Turkey and who was recently in the area to analyze the situation. The first estimate of damages made by the World Bank established the direct impact of the earthquake at 34,000 million dollars (about 31,500 million euros), to which is added the costs of reconstruction -as much else- and the losses associated with the interruption of economic life in the area, which the institution estimates at around 4,000 million dollars.

These calculations have been surpassed by others made by the UNDP (more than 100,000 million dollars) or by the Turkish Government itself, which raises the bill for the earthquake to 103,600 million dollars (96,000 million euros) or around 10% of the GDP of the country. The Turkish opposition, which has its hopes in the upcoming elections in May, believes that the figure will be even higher: 126,000 million dollars. On the disparity of the figures, López explains: “In these calculations we must distinguish the damage suffered in the affected infrastructure, which is what we have calculated. Another thing is the cost of recovering that damage, which is more difficult to calculate because it depends on how the reconstruction is carried out. Our data suggests that half of the damage has been to privately owned residential buildings. And we still do not know how its reconstruction will be carried out, if it will be done through the public initiative, subsidies, etc.”

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And, despite this, a European source involved in the damage analysis tasks explains that the impact, in terms of cost of damage, is much greater: “The evaluation has not yet been completed in many aspects. A more detailed analysis of the impact is needed not only on buildings, but also on people. And the cost of reconstruction will be even higher, because it cannot be rebuilt as before”.

The Executive of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has promised to build half a million homes within a year. Of these, part will be built by the public body TOKI and part will be made through semi-open tenders to which private companies will present themselves. And it is that there will be areas of towns that must be moved because, as the earthquakes have shown, the ground where they were located will not resist new powerful tremors, no matter how well it is built. “The ground behaved during the earthquake as if it were liquid and the buildings lost all level of support, so our technicians explain that, in these areas, it will not be possible to rebuild,” says López.

In some localities, the foundations of the new urban areas have already begun to be excavated after a decree-law from Erdogan, something that the Union of Turkish Chambers of Architects and Engineers (TMMOB, in its acronym in Turkish) considers premature, because it is being done without studying a new urbanization plan. In addition, Eyüp Muhçu, president of the Turkish Chamber of Architects (part of the trade union), explains that it is not yet safe to start building, since the constant aftershocks that the region suffers can damage the foundations during the setting of the cement. “It is beginning to be built in a hurry due to pure electoralism. To be able to say before the elections [de mayo]: ‘We have already built so many buildings, so we will finish within a year,’ denounces Muhçu. “Instead, habitable conditions should be guaranteed in the temporary settlements because the victims are likely to spend two or three years there. However, no attention is being paid. There are few shipping containers and prefabricated houses. Most of them live in tents, in poor conditions, and we can have problems like those of the recent floods”.

This Monday, at the International Donor Conference in Brussels, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu stated that Turkey will build “faster, better and greener”, but experts stress the need to focus on “quality” rather than in speed, taking into account the area of ​​great seismic activity on which Turkey sits.

In Brussels, donors committed some 6 billion euros in aid and soft loans for the reconstruction of Turkey, an amount far less than necessary, although it could be increased in the future. “I am sure that, in the coming years, the international community will offer more money according to the needs. The bottleneck will not be money, but the reconstruction projects”, maintains the European source, and exemplifies this in that housing needs are five or six times the annual construction capacity of the sector in Turkey. Each donor country or institution will choose how the funds are distributed, but in the case of the Europeans they will go to specific projects, which will be monitored technically and financially: “It is important for donors that the projects meet a series of requirements. And we also have to justify every penny of the European taxpayers”.

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