The road to earthquakes is paved with construction amnesties

The road to earthquakes is paved with construction amnesties
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Turkey’s latest construction amnesty legalized a total of 7,085,969 structures, over five million of which were residences. As the initial shock abates, many believe that these policies are at fault for the catastrophe of the quake.

Turkey is experiencing the shock brought on by two earthquakes of magnitudes 7.7 and 7.6 that rocked the Southeastern Anatolia region in the same day on February 6. Thousands of people lost their lives, and many others were left homeless. Due to the force of the earthquake, even historic structures such as the Gaziantep Castle were flattened.

The country still carries in its memory the pain of the 1999 earthquake that struck the nation’s Midwest. The megalopolis of Istanbul is preparing for an earthquake stronger than magnitude 7.0. After the initial shock has abated in Turkey, whose lands sit on fault lines and which carries a high risk for earthquakes, people are questioning the causes of the disaster.

Many experts and ordinary people believe that the widely applied Construction Amnesty policies are largely at fault for the disaster.

What is a Construction Amnesty?

A construction amnesty means to license buildings made in violation of regulations or without proper authorization. Since 2002, President Erdogan has issued such amnesties eight times. Although the construction amnesty is portrayed by authorities as a move to account for the number of unregistered buildings, it is nothing more than a populist policy utilized before the elections.

The latest construction amnesty in Turkey entered into force on June 6, 2018, before the general elections held on June 24, 2018. The law aimed to register unlicensed buildings or those made in violation of licensing requirements and construction regulations. Relevant authorities note that within the scope of the amnesty, a total of 7,085,969 Building Registration Certificates were issued throughout Turkey, 5,848,927 of which were given to residential buildings. They note that the government added 15 billion Turkish Liras to the budget with this move.

This was apparently insufficient, as the law proposal submitted to Parliament by Mustafa Destici, Chairman of the small Great Unity Party, which supported the government before the election expected to be held on May 2023, requested a construction amnesty for unlicensed buildings and those built in violation of licensing requirements.

How did Construction Amnesty impact the earthquakes?

After the earthquake on February 6, the permits that were easily granted to illegal buildings came to the fore again. Experts say that the previous Construction Amnesty practices played a significant role in the extent of the destruction.

Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB) Chamber of City Planners Secretary General Gencay Serter explains that construction amnesty practices render relevant legislation and inspections obsolete. Serter says, “After the 1999 Marmara Earthquake, starting from urban planning, the gains made in designing, licensing, constructing buildings, and supervising all these processes were suddenly harmed by the "construction amnesty,” and instead of the expected transformation of the supply of feeble buildings, their continued use was encouraged through legalization.”

TMMOB Chamber of City Planners Istanbul Branch President Assoc. Dr. Pelin Pinar Giritlioglu draws attention to the parallel between earthquake zones and the Construction Amnesty. Giritlioglu said, “There were innumerable applications for construction amnesties in earthquake zones, especially in places where fault lines pass. We had made warnings about this alongside our organization’s headquarters. Therefore, we have tested the bitter consequences of this once again today. We saw something similar in the Izmir earthquake. There were also countless applications for amnesty [in that city], and illegal structures were in abundance. Unfortunately, we saw the same here.”