Disasters & Accidents

Political cost in Turkey of devastating earthquake remains unclear 1 month on

Istanbul, Mar 6 (EFE).- One month after a massive earthquake and numerous powerful aftershocks left around 46,000 dead in southern Turkey, the country is still taking stock of the damage and assessing how a much-criticized disaster response will affect President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s prospects in the upcoming general election.

Although initial work has begun to build tens of thousands of new homes in the 11 provinces affected by the magnitude-7.8 earthquake on Feb. 6 and an extremely powerful magnitude-7.5 aftershock hours later, the Herculean task of clearing the debris remains in the early stages and hundreds of thousands of people are still homeless.

Antakya, the hardest-hit city, has the same look of devastation it had in the immediate aftermath of the temblors, with rubble only having been cleared from a few main streets to ensure the smooth flow of traffic and giant piles of debris still blocking off all access to that city’s ancient historical center.

Only the occasional strip of police tape has been put up in that city to warn people not to walk between buildings, while guards in some areas dissuade those who try.

The danger is real in many parts of southern Turkey.

Any aftershock, no matter how mild, can bring down a damaged structure. The latest instance occurred Sunday in the city of Sanliurfa, where a six-story building located next to a busy street came crashing down suddenly.

One passerby was slightly injured, but the local government has come under criticism for not having demolished the building despite it having been categorized as severely damaged.

A total of 227,000 buildings in the region have been classified as collapsed or in need of urgent demolition to avoid danger to the population, Environment, Urbanization and Climate Change Minister Murat Kurum said Sunday, without indicating if that figure is definitive.

The Turkish Catastrophe Insurance Pool (DASK), for its part, said Monday that it has received 327,000 reports of damaged buildings and has paid 2.05 billion Turkish liras ($108.4 million) in earthquake-related claims.

But it is more difficult to assess the political fallout for the ruling Islamist AKP party and Erdogan, who has led the country for the past 20 years as prime minister (from 2003 to 2014) and as president (2014 to the present).

Even before the earthquakes, Erdogan’s popularity had been slipping gradually in tandem with the depreciation of the lira and a rise in inflation, with polls indicating strong prospects for an opposition coalition mainly comprising social democrats and moderate nationalists.

The emergency management response to the Feb. 6 earthquakes, which also devastated northwestern Syria, has been criticized by a large number of victims, with some complaining that rescue and aid teams took more than a day to show up in many areas.

Even so, initial post-earthquake polls have shown only a slight further drop in voter preference ahead of the elections for Erdogan, who has said the vote scheduled for June 18 may be moved up to May 14.

No formal decision has been made and some voices are calling for the elections to be postponed for a year due to the difficulties of organizing them in the earthquake-devastated regions.

Turkey’s constitution only allows elections to be postponed when the country is in a state of war.

But the country now faces a considerable challenge in ensuring the right to vote for the more than 2 million people who have had to abandon the affected provinces, not including those displaced within those regions. EFE


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