By Shigeko Segawa | The Asahi Shimbun
Istanbul has one foot planted firmly in Europe and the other in the Asian continent, courtesy of the Bosphorus strait that cuts Turkey’s largest city into two.
Bogazici University’s Kandilli campus is located on a hilltop on the Asian section of the bustling city of 13.5 million. The campus is home to the highly regarded Earthquake Research Institute.
The institute’s monitoring room is roughly the size of an elementary school classroom. Lines that move jaggedly up and down on an array of large computer displays represent seismic activity, as recorded from more than 100 observation sites in Turkey and its immediate neighbors.
The institute is also able to calculate the impact of an earthquake based on the location of the temblor to the seismic center. ”It helps us to quickly assess the scale of the damage and the kind of disaster response that will be needed,” explains Mustafa Erdik, the institute’s director.
Turkey is frequently hit by earthquakes in the range of magnitude-7. The institute’s monitor room operates around the clock. When an earthquake strikes, it analyzes the source and scale before announcing the details and notifying the government and city authorities.
Dogan Kalafat, who is in charge of monitoring at the institute, reels off the years when major earthquakes have occurred: 1939, ’42, ’43, ’44, ’57, ’67, ’98, ’99 ….
Each time, he points out their locations on a map. They all occurred along the North Anatolian Fault, which cuts across northern Turkey from east to west. Many believe the next big quake will strike close to Istanbul. According to Kalafat’s projections, there is a 75-percent chance that a magnitude-7 earthquake will occur within 40 years.
So will the institute try to forecast when one is about to strike? Kalafat offers a curt reply: “That wouldn’t be much use really.”
The institute experimented with earthquake prediction in the 1980s and ’90s, when it installed observation apparatus close to the North Anatolian Fault. It failed to predict the one that struck in 1999 and claimed 17,000 lives. After that, the idea of predicting quakes was met with considerable skepticism and abandoned.
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Fast-forward to this past May when an expert announced on television that there was a real danger of Istanbul being hit by a major earthquake within a few years. Some say the public should be warned about such worst-case scenarios, but Cankaya University professor H. Plat Gulkan, who is president of International association for Earthquake engineering, disagrees.
“We cannot predict earthquakes with our current scientific knowledge,” he says. “Scientists need to act ethically to avoid spreading panic.” The Turkish government is now preparing ethical guidelines outlining how scientists should share quake information with the public.
Demir Akin, chairman of earthquake risk management group at the Prime ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency, has this to say on the issue: “Researchers should first of all discuss among themselves how valid some information is. Once its reliability has been confirmed, then the data can be conveyed to the public.”
And then, there is the rumor mill; like when word spreads that an earthquake is imminent because armies of ants have been spotted moving away from a particular area.
“If you have enough time to worry about these omens, you would be better off using it to study how to protect yourself when an earthquake hits,” says Suheyla Sezan of the Turkey Earthquake Foundation. The foundation visits schools with a truck fitted with an earthquake simulator. The idea is to teach children what to do when a disaster strikes, such as hiding under a table and away for bookcases which could topple over.
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In the Zeytinburnu district of western Istanbul, a project is under way to reduce the damage caused by the next big quake. The neighborhood has many old buildings with next to no quake-resistant capabilities. The authorities mounted a campaign eight years ago to demolish these structures and get their occupants to shift to new housing complexes.
Initially, those efforts were met with strong resistance from local residents. But that all changed last October after a magnitude-7.1 temblor struck Van province in eastern Turkey. Some 480 households subsequently agreed to resettlement.
“The new buildings are quake-resistant. The residents’ quality of life will improve,” says Dr. Alpaslan Hemdi Kuzucuoglu, the city official working for the project.
Istanbul also has many old buildings built of stone or red brick. Up to 60,000 homes would be destroyed and 63,000 people killed in a magnitude-7.5 earthquake, according to joint research by the municipal government and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
In 2003, Istanbul mounted its “Earthquake Masterplan” to raise awareness of disaster preparedness. The resettlement project is part of this program. Similar plans are being pursued on a national level. This year the Turkish government established its “National Earthquake Strategy and Action Plan” through 2023.
It covers a wide area, from quake prediction and disaster preparedness education, to improving the quake resistance of buildings. The aforementioned ethical guidelines also form part of this plan. One thing is for sure. An earthquake will undoubtedly occur. Predicting when is extremely difficult.
That is why everything possible should be done to prepare for the inevitable disaster. In earthquake-prone Turkey, this way of thinking is spreading fast.
© Copyright 2012 Asahi Shimbun and AJW - Published at Set You Free News with license