Disasters in Turkey in 2020

Mikdat Kadıoğlu
Prof. Dr., Istanbul Technical University Department of Meteorological Engineering

Undoubtedly, the most significant calamity in Turkey in 2020 has been the COVID-19 pandemic. However, other disasters based in Turkey have been recorded in international disaster databases.

Eight nature-based and four technology-based disasters have been recorded in the International Emergency Database (EM-DAT) for Turkey in 2020. Five of the eight nature-based calamities were formed from earthquake-based ground movements and tsunamis from geophysical calamities. The other three consist of one meteorological and two hydrometeorological disasters. These were due to convective storms, flash floods, and avalanches.

Three of the four technological calamities in Turkey in 2020 occurred in relation to the transportation sector. One of these was recorded as a plane crash, and the other two involved migrants at sea. A poisoning incident can also be found in the records.

The deadliest and most destructive disaster of 2020 was the Samos-centered earthquake that affected İzmir’s Bornova, Bayraklı, and Karşıyaka districts. The need for shelter arose for 5,000 people in this earthquake, in which 114 lives were lost and 1,034 people were injured. The earthquake in Elazığ’s Sivrice district and the avalanche in Van took second and third place in 2020 with 41 deaths.

The explosions in which 10 lives were lost and 135 people injured, were heard from many points of the city at a distance of 50 kilometers on July 3 at 11:15 in the Hendek district of Sakarya.

One person died and 177 were injured in the Boeing 737 crash taking off from the runway at Sabiha Gökçen Airport. Additionally, many migrants lost their lives in two other technological disasters that occurred in the transportation field. 11 refugees lost their lives in a sea accident of Çeşme, and 50 refugees lost their lives in an accident on Lake Van. The flooding in Bursa and Giresun were not included in the international database.

The disasters recorded in 2020 are only mentioned briefly in the data table. Earthquakes form the majority of these disasters in terms of number of occurrences and losses caused, followed by meteorological disasters and transportation accidents.

Being at threat of earthquakes, the lack of earthquake-resistant building services across Turkey has led to significant loss of life and economic losses. 

While meteorological disasters like floods and avalanches cause significant casualties, economic losses in these disasters are low in relation to earthquakes. However, earthquakes and floods are more rooted in Turkey in improper urbanization and wrong site selection and disregard for engineering standards for buildings.

The many factory fires as well as the explosion in Hendek are in addition to the frequent mining accidents experienced in Turkey. After this explosion, the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization published the Communiqué on Internal Emergency Plans to be applied in Major Industrial Accidents on August 5, 2020. This communiqué aims to specify the procedures and principles for the internal emergency plan. More, requirements for top-level institution directors which are specified in the Directive on Major Industrial Accidents and Reducing Their Effects published in the Official Gazette #30702 on March 2, 2019, outlines the need for preparing and having prepared what is required of Article 13 in the same directive.

There are lessons to be learned from all these disasters. Having buildings primarily be sturdy is an indispensable condition, particularly against earthquakes. In order to prevent earthquake hazards from turning into disasters, structural risks must first be eliminated; namely, buildings must be made earthquake-resistant. After this, non-structural dangers must be prevented so that institutions and organizations can remain operational along with protecting people’s lives and properties. Public institutions and organizations have great importance as critical facilities in disaster management. Critical facilities in a location that fail due to structural or non-structural reasons prevents post-disaster works from performing efficiently.

The buildings destroyed in the Elazığ and İzmir earthquakes caused great loss of life and property. Despite the long intense efforts made in the destroyed and damaged buildings by dozens of search and rescue teams, many of the people found under the rubble had either lost their lives or were slightly or heavily injured. No matter how successful the search and rescue efforts were, there is no possible way to bring the dead back to life or come back from the physical and mental damage.

The search and rescue as well as aid efforts in Elazığ and İzmir can never be acceptable as a measure or precedent for the great earthquake that is expected in İstanbul and the Marmara Region. Our knee-jerk response to such small earthquakes is incomparable to the response we’ll need to show after the İstanbul earthquake, which is expected to destroy 50,000 buildings. We need to transfer our success in search and rescue and the state’s ability to mobilize prior to disaster in all places where earthquakes are expected, primarily in İstanbul.

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