Friday, February 26, 2010
Thursday, February 25, 2010
ISTANBUL — As he surveys the streets of this sprawling mega-city, Mustafa Erdik, the director of an earthquake engineering institute here, says he sometimes feels like a doctor scanning a crowded hospital ward.
It is not so much the city’s modern core, where two sleek Trump Towers and a huge airport terminal were built to withstand a major earthquake that is considered all but inevitable in the next few decades. Nor does Dr. Erdik agonize over Istanbul’s ancient monuments, whose yards-thick walls have largely withstood more than a dozen potent seismic blows over the past two millenniums.
His biggest worry is that tens of thousands of buildings throughout the city, erected in a haphazard, uninspected rush as the population soared past 10 million from the 1 million it was just 50 years ago, are what some seismologists call “rubble in waiting.”
“Earthquakes always find the weakest point,” said Dr. Erdik, a professor at Bogazici University here.
Istanbul is one of a host of quake-threatened cities in the developing world where populations have swelled far faster than the capacity to house them safely, setting them up for disaster of a scope that could, in some cases, surpass the devastation in Haiti from last month’s earthquake.
Roger Bilham, a seismologist at the University of Colorado who has spent decades studying major earthquakes around the world, including the recent quake in Haiti, said that the planet’s growing, urbanizing population, projected to swell by two billion more people by midcentury and to require one billion dwellings, faced “an unrecognized weapon of mass destruction: houses.”
Without vastly expanded efforts to change construction practices and educate people, from mayors to masons, on simple ways to bolster structures, he said, Haiti’s tragedy is almost certain to be surpassed sometime this century when a major quake hits Karachi, Pakistan, Katmandu, Nepal, Lima, Peru, or one of a long list of big poor cities facing inevitable major earthquakes.
In Tehran, Iran’s capital, Dr. Bilham has calculated that one million people could die in a predicted quake similar in intensity to the one in Haiti, which the Haitian government estimates killed 230,000. (Some Iranian geologists have pressed their government for decades to move the capital because of the nest of surrounding geologic faults.)
As for Istanbul, a study led by Dr. Erdik mapped out a situation in which a quake could kill 30,000 to 40,000 people and seriously injure 120,000 at the very minimum.
The city is rife with buildings with glaring flaws, like ground floors with walls or columns removed to make way for store displays, or a succession of illegal new floors added in each election period on the presumption that local officials will look the other way. On many blocks, upper floors jut precariously over the sidewalk, taking advantage of an old permitting process that governed only a building’s footprint.
Worse, Dr. Erdik said, as with a doctor’s patients, not all of the potentially deadly problems are visible from the outside, and thousands more buildings are presumed to be at risk. “Little details are very important,” he said. “To say that a building is in bad condition is easy. To say that one is safe is hard.”
Some of Turkey’s biggest builders have readily admitted to using shoddy materials and bad practices in the urban construction boom. In an interview last year with the Turkish publication Referans, Ali Agaoglu, a Turkish developer ranked 468th last year on the Forbes list of billionaires, described how in the 1970s, salty sea sand and scrap iron were routinely used in buildings made of reinforced concrete.
“At that time, this was the best material,” he said, according to a translation of the interview. “Not just us, but all companies were doing the same thing. If an earthquake occurs in Istanbul, not even the army will be able to get in.”
Echoing other engineers and planners trying to reduce Istanbul’s vulnerability, Dr. Erdik said that the best hope, considering the scale of the problem, might well be that economic advancement would happen fast enough that property owners could replace the worst housing stock before the ground heaved.
“If the quake gives us some time, we can reduce the losses just through turnover,” Dr. Erdik said. “If it happens tomorrow, there’ll be a huge number of deaths.”
But when a potent quake hit 50 miles away in 1999, killing more than 18,000 people, including 1,000 on the outskirts of Istanbul, the city was reminded that time might not be on its side. That earthquake occurred on the North Anatolian fault, which runs beneath the Marmara Sea, just a few miles from the city’s crowded southern flanks.
The fault, which is very similar to the San Andreas fault in California, appears to have a pattern of successive failures, meaning the section near Istanbul is probably primed to fail, said Tom Parsons, who has studied the fault for the United States Geological Survey.
Istanbul stands out among threatened cities in developing countries because it is trying to get ahead of the risk.
A first step was an earthquake master plan drawn up for the city and the federal government by Dr. Erdik’s team and researchers at three other Turkish universities in 2006. Such a plan is a rarity outside of rich cities like Tokyo and Los Angeles.
Carrying out its long list of recommendations has proved more challenging, given that the biggest source of political pressure in Istanbul, as with most crowded cities, is not an impending earthquake but traffic, crime, jobs and other real-time troubles.
Nonetheless, with the urgency amplified by the lessons from Haiti’s devastation, Istanbul is doing what it can to gird for its own disaster.
The effort to prepare is coming from the top, with tighter building codes, mandatory earthquake insurance and loans from international development banks for buttressing or replacing vulnerable schools and other public buildings.
But a push is also coming from the bottom, as nonprofit groups, recognizing the limits of centralized planning, train dozens of teams of volunteers in poor districts and outfit them with radios, crowbars and first-aid kits so they can dig into the wreckage when their neighborhoods are shaken.
Mahmut Bas, who leads the city’s Directorate of Earthquake and Ground Analysis, is charged with consolidating and coordinating everything from building inspections to emergency response. Yet the bureaucracy is almost as sprawling and inefficient as the dizzying web of smog-shrouded streets, clogged with an estimated six million vehicles.
Mr. Bas said collapsing buildings were just one of many threats. One prediction about a potent quake concluded that 30,000 natural gas lines were likely to rupture. “If just 10 percent catch fire, that’s 3,000 fires,” he said, adding that the city’s fire stations are able to handle at most 30 to 40 fires in one day.
Still, keeping vital structures standing — those fire stations, hospitals and schools — remains the prime priority.
Under a program financed with more than $800 million in loans from the World Bank and the European Investment Bank, and more in the pipeline from other international sources, Turkey is in the early stages of bolstering hundreds of the most vulnerable schools in Istanbul, along with important public buildings and more than 50 hospitals.
With about half of the nearly 700 schools assessed as high priorities retrofitted or replaced so far, progress is too slow to suit many Turkish engineers and geologists tracking the threat. But in districts where the work has been done or is under way — those closest to the Marmara Sea and the fault — students, parents and teachers express a sense of relief tempered by the knowledge that renovations only cut the odds of calamity.
“I hope it’s enough,” said Serkan Erdogan, an English teacher at the Bakirkoy Cumhuriyet primary school close to the Marmara coast, where $315,000 was spent to add reinforced walls, jackets of fresh concrete and steel rebar around old columns and to make adjustments as simple as changing classroom doors to open outward, easing evacuations.
“The improvements are great, but the building may still collapse,” he said. “We have to learn how to live with that risk. The children need to know what they should do.”
In a fifth-grade classroom, the student training that goes with the structural repairs was evident as Nazan Sati, a social worker, asked the 11-year-olds what they would do if an earthquake struck right at that moment.
At first a forest of hands shot toward the ceiling. Ms. Sati quickly told them to show, not tell. In a mad, giggling scramble, the students dove beneath their desks.
But the threat for children, and their parents, also lies outside the school walls, in mile upon mile of neighborhoods filled with structures called gecekondu, meaning “landed overnight,” because they were constructed seemingly instantly as hundreds of thousands of migrants from rural regions flowed into the city seeking work in the past decade or two.
That kind of construction is commonplace in many of the world’s most unstable seismic zones. Dr. Bilham at the University of Colorado has estimated that an engineer is involved in just 3 percent of the construction under way around the world.
Peter Yanev, who has advised the World Bank and the insurance industry on earthquake engineering and is the author of “Peace of Mind in Earthquake Country,” noted that in Turkey and other developing countries, even when someone with an engineering degree was involved, that was no guarantee of safe construction because there was little specialized training or licensing.
In the face of such problems, efforts are under way in Istanbul’s crowded working-class and poor neighborhoods to train and equip several thousand volunteers to be ready to respond when, not if, the worst happens.
On a sunny Saturday morning, Mustafa Elvan Cantekin, who directs the Neighborhood Disaster Support Project, navigated back streets to meet with one team deep in the city’s Bagcilar district, where one estimate projects that some 4,200 people would be likely to die in a major earthquake.
Dr. Cantekin, a Turkish engineer educated at Texas A&M University and tested in the 1999 earthquake zone, has helped create 49 neighborhood teams in the city, each with a shipping container loaded with crowbars, generators, stretchers and other emergency gear.
Through the project, paid for by a Swiss development agency and private companies, he has traveled to Morocco, Jordan and Iran to help initiate programs there based on Istanbul’s.
A map on his lap showed that the neighborhood was on the border of red and orange danger zones delineating the worst seismic risks. He pointed to one building after another where there was no permanent roof but instead columns poking skyward in anticipation of a landlord finding a new tenant and adding yet another unlicensed floor — and another layer of risk.
As his car crawled through mazes of traffic-choked streets, Mr. Cantekin said the harsh reality for the dozens of small communities within a mega-city, as with the residents of shattered towns in Sichuan Province in China after the 2008 earthquake there, was that they would have to be self-reliant when the quake hit.
“China has the biggest civil defense capability in the world, but it still took three or four days to reach the collapsed towns,” he said. “If there is the big one here, you are all alone to cope with whatever you have, at least for the first 72 hours.”
Outside a community center where children sat at computers playing Farmville on Facebook, Mr. Cantekin inspected the container contents with the team leader, Cuma Cetin, 36, a father of five and a factory worker.
“We’re not waiting for the disaster,” Mr. Cetin said as he and his team, dressed in orange coveralls, accompanied Mr. Cantekin while he pointed out fatal flaws in nearby buildings.
Along an avenue that was a stream bed four decades ago, in a spot where houses were built on sediment instead of bedrock and thus particularly vulnerable, Mr. Cantekin led the team into a ground-floor area beneath four stories of apartments with laundry flapping in the breeze on balcony after balcony.
The columns holding up this part of the building are too thin, he said, pointing to cracks that have already scarred the concrete surface.
“This is one of the first to go,” Mr. Cantekin said, before they walked on to the next one.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Megacities are something new on the planet. Earthquakes are something very old. The two are a lethal combination, as seen in the recent tragedy in Port-au-Prince, where more than 200,000 people perished -- a catastrophe that scientists say is certain to be repeated somewhere, and probably soon, with death tolls that once again stagger the mind.
n many vulnerable cities, people are effectively stacked on top of one another in buildings designed as if earthquakes don't happen. It is not the tremor that kills people in an earthquake but the buildings, routinely constructed on the cheap, using faulty designs and, in some cities, overseen by corrupt inspectors. The difference between life and death is often a matter of how much sand went into the cement or how much steel into a supporting column. Earthquakes might be viewed as acts of God, but their lethality is often a function of masonry.
"In recent earthquakes, buildings have acted as weapons of mass destruction," Bilham writes in the journal Nature.
Brian Tucker, an earth scientist who leads GeoHazards International, said 10 percent of the money going to help Haiti rebuild should be dedicated to mitigating the destruction in earthquakes. But he also knows from many years of sounding warnings about possible earthquakes that people tend to be complacent about catastrophes that have yet to happen.
"People who advocate diet and exercise are chumps, and heart surgeons are heroes," Tucker said.
Bilham said he would like to see the United Nations develop a building-inspection program akin to its efforts to look for banned nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Zoback, likewise, is impatient for action that could save lives:
The general advice for people seeking a house in Turkey to find one built after the 1999 Marmara earthquake may sound solid, but the wisdom doesn’t hold true in 62 provinces.
It is common for people to prefer a house built after the earthquake because of the popular belief that legislation passed shortly after the quake strengthened construction control mechanisms and the quality of buildings. But a recently revealed report by the Public Works Ministry nulls that idea.
Buildings in 62 provinces are under threat of being destroyed in an earthquake because they fall short of structural standards implemented in Turkey’s other 19 provinces after the 1999 Marmara quake, according to the “Residence Control Report.”
The daily Radikal disclosed the report and wrote that it had been hidden like a secret. According to the report, between 10 and 30 percent of houses in the 62 provinces are under risk while the situation in the 19 provinces is positive because the construction controls were properly applied.
"This report clearly indicates that the law on controlling construction cannot sufficiently provide a reliable control mechanism. The ministry has been too slow to offer proper regulations. The control process has completely broken down,” Eyüp Muhçu, head of the Istanbul Chamber of Architects, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.
In Turkey’s 81 provinces, the ministry inspected more than 3,200 buildings to test their bearing capacity and other relevant issues. At least 40 buildings in each province were checked. There has been a significant rise in the quality of buildings in the 19 provinces where the controls are in place, the report concluded. The ministry also determined that in the 19 provinces a test that measures the elasticity capacity of steel material was performed in around 97 percent of the buildings.
But when it comes to the provinces outside the jurisdiction of the law, the ministry’s report reveals a tragic picture. Although in a quake zone, many buildings in eastern Anatolian cities are arguably waiting to be destroyed in an earthquake. The percentage of buildings with improperly built load-bearing systems is between 10 and 30 percent.
Moreover, the percentage of buildings that underwent proper testing to measure structural strength was low in those cities. The provinces outside of the law but in first-degree quake zones are the Anatolian provinces of Şırnak, Hakkâri, Siirt, Muş, Bingöl, Adıyaman, Kahramanmaraş, Tunceli, Erzincan, Tokat, Amasya, Çankırı, Karabük, Bilecik, Muğla, Afyon, Uşak, Burdur, Isparta. Meanwhile, the 19 pilot provinces are Adana, Ankara, Antalya, Aydın, Balıkesir, Bolu, Bursa, Çanakkale, Denizli, Düzce, Eskişehir, Gaziantep, Hatay, İstanbul, İzmir, Kocaeli, Sakarya, Tekirdağ and Yalova.
The report was presented to Public Works Minister Mustafa Demir a couple of months ago, but nothing was done to bring all the provinces under an efficient control mechanism, daily Radikal reported.
“We urgently need a new system to restore control over construction. The current mechanism is not working properly. It is still unclear whether institutions that are supposed to implement control mechanisms are using objective criteria,” said Tayfun Kahraman, head of the Istanbul Chamber of City Planners.
Istanbul Chamber of Architect’s head Muhcu also said Turkey needs a new countrywide control process based on scientific principles and more participation if the country is to have a reliable control system for construction. “It should be a countrywide control process rather than a system based on pilot-region practices,” he said.
“Everything should be changed and we need a new law to make these drastic changes,” said Kahraman, adding that the builders should consult experts like city planners, engineers and architects.
Muhcu said the control mechanism under the current law does not work as it should. “Even buildings constructed by state-run institutions and TOKİ [the Housing Development Administration] are not within the scope of this law,” he said.
“Universities, municipalities and all actors along the control process should contribute to a new system that can be implemented in all provinces across the country,” he said.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Consulate General Istanbul Warden Message #1
WORLDWIDE CAUTIONThe Department of State has issued this Worldwide Caution to update information on the continuing threat of terrorist actions and violence against U.S. citizens and interests throughout the world. U.S. citizens are reminded to maintain a high level of vigilance and to take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness. This replaces the Worldwide Caution dated July 29, 2009 to provide updated information on security threats and terrorist activities worldwide.The Department of State remains concerned about the continued threat of terrorist attacks, demonstrations, and other violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests overseas. Americans are reminded that demonstrations and rioting can occur with little or no warning. Current information suggests that al-Qaida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks against U.S. interests in multiple regions, including Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. These attacks may employ a wide variety of tactics including suicide operations, assassinations, kidnappings, hijackings, and bombings.
Potential targets are not limited to those companies or establishments with overt U.S. ties. For instance, terrorists may target movie theaters, liquor stores,bars, casinos, or any similar type of establishment, regardless of whether they are owned and operated by host country nationals. Due to varying degrees of security at all such locations, Americans should be particularly vigilant when visiting these establishments. ... Anti-American violence could include possible terrorist actions against aviation, ground transportation, and maritime interests, specifically in the Middle East, including the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, the Arabian Peninsula, and North Africa. ... . Extremists may be surveilling Westerners, particularly at hotels, housing areas, and rental car facilities ...
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Turkey’s ruling government is calling for new regulations on development near fault lines that would restrict construction to a certain distance depending on the depth of the fault and require that current structures are relocated or vacated in time. Experts say the government’s plan is ambitious and well intentioned but useless in the long runNew regulations to reduce the number of deaths in the much-debated “impending big earthquake” in Turkey include strict development rules near fault lines, but experts say the buffer zones would not be useful, especially for Istanbul.
Interest in psychiatry not a class issue
ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
Monday, February 15, 2010
Crimes committed within families are increasing in Turkey, says Professor Yankı Yazgan, a prominent psychiatrist, adding that the feeling of trust in authorities is decreasing. This leads to feelings of "ambiguity" and having to "take care of one’s self," which is at the core of depression, he says.
Monday, February 15, 2010
Sunday, February 14, 2010ISTANBUL - Milliyet
A strong earthquake could kill up to 32,000 people if it strikes Istanbul, according to a quake scenario published by the Prime Ministry’s Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate.
Like many areas of Turkey, Istanbul lies close to major fault lines and has been previously hit by fatal quakes several times.
Another 81,828 people could be badly injured and more than a million could be left homeless in the event of a quake measuring at least 7 on the Richter scale with an epicenter in the Marmara Sea, according to the scenario, which was published last week.
The scenario was drafted by Professor Bülent Özmen, an academic from Gazi University in Ankara, and submitted to the Parliamentary Earthquake Research Committee by Murat Nurlu, the head of the Earthquake Directorate.
According to the scenario, 96 percent of Turkey faces a risk of quakes of varying strengths and 66 percent of the country lies on active fault lines.
The report stressed that the seismic hazard for regions where 70 percent of the country’s population lives and 75 percent of the areas hosting huge industry zones could be “tremendously” high.
According to the report, 223 devastating quakes hit Turkey between the years 1900 and 2009, killing a total of 86,000 people and either leveling or badly damaging 549,000 buildings.
The latest scenario envisions an earthquake with its epicenter in the Marmara Sea along the North Anatolian Fault Line, a major active geologic fault in northern Anatolia that runs along the tectonic boundary between the Anatolian and Eurasian plates. A strong quake measuring over 7 on the Richter scale is expected to hit Istanbul in this region.
The report did not provide a forecast time for an earthquake. Experts have previously said there is a 50 percent chance of a quake with a magnitude of at least 7 hitting the city within the next 30 years.
According to a report submitted by the Japan International Agency, or JICA, to Istanbul’s provincial council, a strong quake could kill up to 90,000 people living in Istanbul, Turkey’s most populous city.
The survey, conducted by four Japanese and 10 Turkish scientists and a team of engineers, stated that material damage could be $40 billion if there were a 7.7-magnitude earthquake in the city.
The provincial council had envisioned a an earthquake master plan to cope with a critical quake scenario. The council assessed the strength of buildings and pulling them down or reinforcing them if necessary.
Some 18,000 people, 1,000 of them in Istanbul, were killed in a 7.4-magnitude earthquake in northwest Turkey in August 1999.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Friday, February 12, 2010
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
“We have not taken any measures (against the H1N1 virus commonly known as swine flu). Everything is up to God’s will,” said Bahçeli, Anatolia news agency reported.
“The health minister tries to convince everyone to be vaccinated but I think he should convince the prime minister first of its necessity. As the prime minister approaches any issue ideologically, his decision on the vaccination must be ideological, too,” said Baykal.
To assist in the reduction of losses in a disastrous earthquake in Istanbul a dense strong motion network is established. One hundred strong motion accelerometers have been placed in populated areas of Istanbul, within an area of approximately 50x30km, to constitute a network that will enable rapid shake map and damage assessment after a damaging earthquake. After triggered by an earthquake, each station will process the streaming strong motion to yield the spectral accelerations at specific periods and will send these parameters in the form of SMS messages to the main data center in KOERI through ARIA GSM network service. A shake map and damage distribution will be automatically generated. For transmission of the Rapid Response information to the concerned agencies (Istanbul Governorate, First Army Headquarters and Istanbul Municipality) through reliable and redundant communication channels: digital radio modem and GPRS communication systems are used.
Monday, February 8, 2010
There would be a military coup, for sure. Connoisseurs of Turkish politics will be familiar with the words "Sledgehammer," "Cage," "Emasya Protocols," and Blonde Girl." Lately the press has been full of lurid claims that the military has been scheming to create a pretext for a coup by bombing mosques or provoking Greek fighter jets. Whether or not this is true, it's pretty clear that this country isn't far from a coup on the best of days. In the aftermath of an event like that, it would be inevitable. It would probably have a lot of popular support from an enraged public, initially. Frankly, it would have my support -- as you can see clearly in Haiti, the most important thing after it happens is to have someone running the show. Anything to maintain security.