20 years after deadly quake, Istanbul ill-prepared for ‘Big One’

Old and newly constructed buildings at Alibeykoy district in Istanbul. (AFP)
Updated 16 August 2019

20 years after deadly quake, Istanbul ill-prepared for ‘Big One’

  • The collapse of a residential building in Istanbul this February, in which 20 people were killed, renewed fears about the solidity of the city’s infrastructure.

ISTANBUL: Twenty years after a devastating earthquake ravaged the northwest of Turkey, Istanbulites live with the knowledge that another “Big One” is unavoidable, and that their city of 16 million is not prepared.
On Saturday, Turkey will mark the anniversary of the 7.4-magnitude quake that hit Izmit — around 100 kilometers east of Istanbul — on August 17, 1999, killing at least 17,400 people, including 1,000 within the economic capital of the country.
The question for seismologists is not if another earthquake will hit Istanbul, which lies along the volatile North Anatolian tectonic plate. The only question is when.
Sukru Ersoy, a specialist at the city’s Yildiz Technical University, estimates it could come within the next decade.
“In the worst case, the quake could reach a magnitude of 7.7,” he told AFP. “Is Istanbul ready for that? Sadly not.”
According to him, such a quake would destroy thousands of buildings, leaving a “terrifying” number of dead and paralysing Turkey’s economic and tourist hub.

The former capital of the Ottoman empire has suffered many earthquakes through its long history. In 1509, the city was shaken so badly that the Ottoman authorities referred to the incident as “the little apocalypse.”
Since then, a rapid-response unit — the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority — has been created, quake-proof hospitals have been built, and systems to cut gas lines installed.
But experts say the main problem is that Istanbul has tens of thousands of poorly-built buildings, thrown up during the construction boom of recent decades with little regulatory oversight.
The 1999 quake showed how many buildings had been built using dodgy cement made from unsuitable sand dredged from the sea.
“There was a moment of reflection just after the 1999 earthquake,” said Nusret Suna, head of the Chamber of Building Engineers for Istanbul. “But with time, fatalism took over again. People said ‘It’s destiny’ and people moved on to other things.”
Although regulations have become stricter in the past 20 years, the collapse of a residential building in Istanbul this February, in which 20 people were killed, renewed fears about the solidity of the city’s infrastructure.
There have been efforts to rebuild “at-risk” buildings in sturdier fashion, but Suna said a much bigger mobilization is needed to reach basic levels of earthquake-proofing.
The new mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, has vowed to fast-track a plan, including efforts to provide more green spaces — notoriously lacking in the city — that can be used to gather survivors.
In theory, each neighborhood is supposed to have an assembly point for this purpose, but many have been lost under new parkings and shopping centers.
Without rapid changes, Istanbul risks being plunged into “real chaos” by a serious quake, warned Recep Salci, head of the non-government Search and Rescue Association, which was a key first-responder in 1999.
“We cannot prevent an earthquake, but we can enormously reduce its consequences,” he said, citing the examples of Japan and Chile, which are similarly vulnerable but have taken radical measures to brace themselves.
Suna, at the chamber of engineers, said it would take 15 to 20 years to fully prepare Istanbul.
“Since 1999, 20 years have been lost. But we must not be discouraged from the task.”

A Jordanian NGO takes on social ills in Amman neighborhoods

Updated 22 February 2020

A Jordanian NGO takes on social ills in Amman neighborhoods

  • Harra aims to revive neighborhoods by encouraging residents to work collectively to improve their environment
  • Initiative has made a difference in five neighborhoods, including deprived areas in Amman

CAIRO: A local initiative in Jordan is rejuvenating neighborhoods in the kingdom’s capital, bringing together communities and encouraging residents to work collectively to improve their environment.

The Harra, an NGO which translates into “neighborhood,” has so far renovated five areas in Amman under the guidance of its founder, the social entrepreneur Mohammed Abu Amerah.

When Abu Amerah returned to Jordan after many years away in 2005, he was saddened to find his local community in disarray — epitomized by ugly concrete boxes and overflowing litter — and quickly decided to take action to reinvigorate the local area.

Abu Amerah believes that traditional “harra” life in Jordan has been compromised by Amman’s explosive growth, as it struggles to contain growing numbers of refugees from across the country’s borders.

“A class system has developed, encouraging discrimination and degradation of the community,” he said.

Abu Amerah said he was spurred into action when he heard the news that his neighbor had been shot at in a dispute over a parking space.

“The idea for Harra came to me slowly. I saw that the lack of elegant structures in the community reflected not just the public space, but also created a negative psychological space among inhabitants.”

The Harra founder said that worn-out built environments not only lack “function” but also breed discontent, insecurity and even violence.

Abu Amerah has since created a Harra “identity plan” which he uses as a guide to breathe life and renewed confidence into communities.

The Harra rejuvenation strategy, which is funded by Jordanian aid, is based around physical, environmental, educational and social aspects – which are then mobilized into the community.

It has taken Abu Amerah 12 years to successfully rejuvenate five harras in Amman: Al-Ashrafiyah, Yarmouk, Jabal Jouffah, Al-Nasr and Wihdat refugee camp, which are some of the most deprived areas in the Jordanian capital.

The Harra Initiative brings neighborhood residents together to develop and implement rehabilitation projects that address common problems.

“The rehabilitation projects ultimately lead to improving the living conditions in the neighborhood,” said Abu Amerah.

The main drive in Harra is the community itself and the need to show members of the locality how to use their power to change their own lives and those of their children and their neighborhood.

This starts with the physical rebuilding of the neighborhood, including the renovation of walls and streets, adding address numbers to houses and collecting garbage, which lasts between 12 and 14 months. But the purpose of this phase is also to build social nets in the Jordanian community.

The process of rehabilitation brings with it the creation of neighborhood associations, the establishment of recycling and energy saving projects or creating ways of generating income.

“The methodology rests on a community participatory approach, which unlocks residents’ own innovative thinking and creative energies,” said Abu Amerah. “Harra interventions are designed to foster a sense of accountability and collective ownership.”

The social entrepreneur said the benefits of the Harra programs have been very tangible. “The programs have provided the initial motivation and leadership needed to inspire change within each targeted community.

“They have also promoted recognition and sensitivity towards social, behavioral processes, cultural and economic diversity.”

Abu Amerah said that reclaiming the public space has helped to reduce violence, created a community voice and promoted social cohesion and resilience among communities.

“Creating the sense of collective ownership among residents was the biggest challenge of all,” Abu Amerah said.

“We have successfully created the voice of harra to address and influence the issues that shape our reality and future in all aspects.”


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