Turkish villagers protest construction on farmland for post-earthquake housing

Turkish villagers protest construction on farmland for post-earthquake housing
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Locals say livelihoods are threatened by rushed development on fertile farmland.

by Sinan Sahin

The Turkish government has begun building earthquake-resistant housing on agricultural land in the quake-ravaged Islahiye district, angering local villagers who say their livelihoods are being destroyed.

In the wake of the devastating Feb. 6 earthquakes, the Turkish Housing Development Authority (TOKİ) began building 399 houses on 660 acres of farmland in the village of Kirikcali. Villagers said tens of thousands of pistachios, olive, and fruit trees were uprooted.

The people of Kirikcali have farmed the former pastureland for 50 years. They say the rushed post-disaster development turns decades of cultivation into concrete in one fell swoop.

When bulldozers began clearing another 540 acres of orchards at night, protesters stood before the equipment until opposition lawmakers took the issue to parliament. Construction has stopped, but locals have sued to protect the land.

The villagers argue that there are more suitable sites, pointing out that the area's fragile silt soil poses a risk of flooding and earthquake damage to the new homes. They say their agricultural income will be lost, deepening the impact of the disaster.

Experts agree that areas of basalt rock would be better suited for construction. But they say a lack of thorough soil analysis raises concerns about the controversial farmland site.