Turkish engineers: Amnesty for builders, blamed for high death toll from earthquake

As parts of southeastern Turkey begin recovery efforts from last month’s earthquake, many are wondering why so many relatively new buildings collapsed during the 7.8-magnitude quake. As Voice of America correspondent Henry Ridgwell reports, some Turkish engineers point the finger at government policies as the main culprit.

A month after the earthquake, concrete and metal debris rests on roads and sidewalks in the worst-hit cities of southeastern Turkey. Dead bodies are still found under the rubble.

Millions of tons of waste are slowly being removed. But questions about the level of destruction are not going away.

Survivors say that when the tremors began, the floors began to slide on top of each other, as if they were made of a soft material. Some buildings survived relatively unscathed, while others, nearby, collapsed.

“The fact that there were buildings that did not collapse even though they are close to those that collapsed due to the earthquake, shows that the design, implementation, or control phases of the collapsed buildings did not work,” says Hasan Aksungur, president of the Chamber of Construction Engineers in Adana.

Critics of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan say his government has repeatedly offered amnesty for illegal buildings, allowing builders to flout basic safety rules. Millions of buildings were certified in this way.

After the last amnesty in 2018, the buildings were mortgaged without being subjected to any checks, any inspections”

“Since 1985, there have been consecutive amnesties. After the last amnesty in 2018, the buildings were mortgaged without being subjected to any control, any inspection, only by paying the relevant fees”, says Mr. Aksungur.

Before the earthquake, the government was considering another amnesty for builders, ahead of the presidential elections, which will be held in May.

Mr. Erdogan boasted of these amnesties during the 2019 election campaign, as he did during an election rally in Hatay province, now one of the hardest hit by the earthquake.

“With the amnesty decisions, we solved the problems for 205 thousand citizens of Hatay”, said the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Turkish government did not respond to VOA’s requests for comment.

The Turkish Minister of Justice has underlined that even the opposition parties have supported the amnesty for the builders. Last month, President Erdogan accused rivals of using the earthquake for political gain.

“We know that some are wringing their hands, waiting for the state and the government to fall under the rubble along with our people,” Mr. Erdogan said.

The Turkish president has said that the May presidential elections will not be postponed. The response of the state structures to the earthquake and the reason that caused the death of more than 45 thousand people seem to be key issues of the election campaign, while the current president seeks a third term.

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