Radix - Bingol, Turkey

bluesquiggle.gif (968 bytes) See also Report and photographs taken at Bingöl by Polat Gülkan

bluesquiggle.gif (968 bytes) and letter from Murat Balamir 

bluesquiggle.gif (968 bytes) and Links page

bluesquiggle.gif (968 bytes) and “Disaster prevention and the 1999 Turkish earthquakes” by Green, P., al-Husseini, A., & Curry, C. (Executive Summary, Full report to download here)

Ben Wisner 1st May 2003

Dear RADIX-readers and other friends!

In response to the earthquake near Bingol, Turkey in the early hours of the morning (local time), I wrote the following in response to a question from Guardian science editor, Tim Radford. Although these thoughts are very rough and preliminary, the same passion moves me now as Maureen Fordham and I felt in January 2001, when the earthquakes in El Salvador and Gujarat caused us to launch RADIX (now on a new server-home -- http://www.radixonline.org). I am inspired by the example of Haresh Shah, David Alexander, Steve Bender and others who have repeatedly and publicly promoted the idea of enforcing internationally accepted standards of safety for schools and hospitals everywhere in the world, and the excellent work of WHO, PAHO, UNESCO, OAS, and other regional bodies, in trying to move incrementally toward that goal.

However, today again we have been shown that that progress is too slow. The basic question is why again and again, even in affluent, industrial countries such as Italy and in middle-income developing countries with a great wealth of engineering and other expertise, schools and hospitals collapse in moderate earthquakes.

What I'd say right away is that a middle income developing country, an aspirant to membership in the EU, should have every, that is EVERY school and school dormitory in the country inspected and where necessary reinforced. This is so basic to risk mitigation in a seismically active area, it seems foolish to have to write it down! Of course EU members such as Italy continue to fail even this simple and relatively inexpensive test of concern for the lives of children. Remember that in November 2002 in San Guilano di Puglia (in Italy's south-central region of Molise), primary school children died in a moderate earthquake. A second storey had been improperly built onto the school house. The concrete slab fell in on the teachers and children. There is something about this on RADIX by David Alexander. 

I'd also say that southern Italy and southeastern Turkey have in common not just their "isolation" and "rural poverty" but a long, long history of discrimination and uneven spatial development. There are REASONS for the terms that the radio journalists have been coming up with in describing "the difficulties of getting relief to this isolated, poor area". Capitalism has developed on the bed rock of historical patterns of regional discrimination and exploitation. 

In the case of Bingol, one has only to consider the tragic history of the Kurds -- an ethnic group divided presently among Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran -- to begin to trace today's tragedy back to its  "root causes".

From the such historical root causes as oppression of a minority group and uneven regional development, one can move analytically forward to consider current "dynamic pressures" at work in the economics and politics of Turkey, the region, and the world. Economic crisis is bound to have influenced the amount of money available for constructing the school dormitory that collapsed in Bingol as well as the amount of professional supervision that project received. Is this not yet another case of very poor enforcement of standards for protecting children in school buildings? It turns out that the dormitory that collapsed was built in 1998. Thus the recent and high standards, materials, and construction techniques should have been used. Also, Richter 6.4 (as measured by the USGS) should not be a dangerous quake unless there are very special soil amplification factors at work. 

This is what I found in one account on Reuters ALERTNET (http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L01243493.htm).

"Attention focused on accusations that shoddy standards were responsible for buildings too flimsy to ride out the tremor. Erdogan [Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan] promised to investigate state building contracts. 'We might suspect that there was stealing from the materials... We have seen similar things in other earthquakes. We must learn the lesson as a society and those guilty of this must face justice,' Erdogan said. Earthquakes are common in Turkey, which lies on a number of seismic fault lines. A major earthquake last hit Bingol in 1971, killing about 900 people. Two major quakes hit the northwest of the country in 1999, killing some 20,000 people. Flimsy building was blamed for the high death toll on that occasion. The government and rescue services, including the military, faced severe criticism then over their slow and ineffectual reaction to the disaster. Since then rescue operations have been revised but not put to any serious test. Bingol province is a region of mountains and forests mainly populated by Kurds. Its population was put at about 254,000 in the most recent census of 2000." 

This is an old, tragic story, and the reason why we launched RADIX. I invite your comments, corrections, perspectives, and I also invite you to visit the RADIX web site, use it's material, and contribute to it. Above all, I invite you to consider supporting a growing sentiment among professionals and lay people that the world needs to have made explicit by treaty the existence of a human right to protection from avoidable harm in extreme natural events. Is there some way we could institutionalize the demand for the recognition and practical establishment of such a right?

Warm regards,


Dr. Ben Wisner
Research Fellow, Crisis States Program, Development Studies Institute, London School of Economics, Research Fellow, Benfield Hazard Research Centre, University College London, & Visiting Professor of Geography, Bucknell University

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