According to recent research, about 15 million old buildings exist in Turkey. Of these, 8.5 million are still inhabitable while 6.5 million of them are unoccupied. This is a large figure for a country located in an earthquake zone.
The Gölcük-Marmara earthquake which took place on Aug. 17, 1999, was a turning point for Turkey in terms of preparation for and dealing with disasters. According to official figures, about 18,000 people died as a result of that earthquake. The biggest reason for the large number of deaths was due to the fact that buildings around the area were old, structurally weak and disorderly (due to bad urban planning). Another major reason was the unplanned and uncontrolled urbanization in the area. Such a lack of urban planning, I believe, is a leftover from our once nomadic culture and is a major problem in some cities.
Last year’s Van earthquake triggered a reaction from the government. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in a unique state of mind for a politician, said his party would pass the necessary legislation to implement building safety rules, even if they result in the government losing in the next elections. He knows there are times when something good needs to be done even if the people do not appreciate it.
At long last a new code came into force on May 31 and was published in the Official Gazette. Under this new code, 50 percent of buildings in Turkey will be retrofitted while plans will be made for a safer living environment in the areas that are at risk in the event of a disaster. The minister of environment and urban planning has also indicated that all unsafe structures will be demolished within a certain timeframe.
However, it is a fact that high-risk buildings in Turkey have to be demolished as soon as possible. In the event of a possible earthquake, I cannot imagine what will happen in İstanbul, especially after a contractor who was known for selling a large amount of construction material in the ‘70s and ‘80s once said the material his company sold was totally rubbish -- in particular sand, which was taken from the sea and resulted in weaker concrete. Therefore, efforts towards making Turkey’s urban areas safer have to be implemented promptly.
According to the new code, the first task is for the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning to compile a list of structures considered to be at risk. These lists will be sent to the land registry offices and building owners will have a right to appeal against this list within 15 days. Accordingly, the buildings which are considered to be at risk will be demolished gradually.
The ministry will also ask building owners to obtain an assessment of their buildings’ safety. However, the aim of the code is to provide a better-planned and safer city, and assessments should therefore not be managed by building owners.
This matter deserves another article so I will be writing a second part on this topic on Monday.
NOTE: Berk Çektir is a licensed attorney at law and available to answer questions on the legal aspects of living in Turkey. Please kindly send inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. If a sender’s letter is published, names may be disclosed unless otherwise expressly stated by the sender.
DISCLAIMER: The information provided here is intended to give basic legal information. You should get legal assistance from a licensed attorney at law while conducting legal transactions and not rely solely on the information in this column.