Turkey earthquake underscores the need for better construction practices

After a 2011 earthquake that killed hundreds of people, Turkey’s then-prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed questionable construction for the high death toll, saying: “Municipalities, constructors and supervisors should now see that their negligence amounts to murder.” After the recent two strong earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria, his earlier words hit differently. 

Endangering the lives of occupants of buildings, commercial or residential, is truly a crime against humanity. So, builders who cut corners, compromise on safety, and follow outdated construction practices and methods are no less than dreaded criminals. 

What caused such widespread infrastructure damage?

The earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria have wreaked havoc on human lives, flattening innumerable buildings, destroying infrastructure, and causing devastation and economic loss. While it is true that the earthquakes were very powerful, measuring 7.8 and 7.5, respectively, on the Richter scale, the way buildings fell like a pack of cards is indicative of lax enforcement of building codes and compromises made in safety measures.

After all, Turkey lies in a high seismic zone, and builders would have foreseen the need to construct earthquake-resistant structures. While it is too early to pass judgment, there does seem to have been criminal neglect in terms of adherence to safety protocols and practices. Many of the collapsed buildings seem to have been built without adequate seismic reinforcement. As per seismic building codes, these structures should have been able to sustain strong earthquakes, and the damage to the infrastructure should not have been this colossal.

Lessons to be learnt from the disaster

The extent of devastation in the two countries should serve as a wake-up call to builders all over the globe, particularly the law-enforcement authorities and those who operate in disaster-prone geographies, to be more diligent when erecting tall structures. There is a pressing need to underline the dangers of outdated construction practices and usher in scientific and modern building methods.

Building collapses during earthquakes, storms, and other natural calamities are often due to poor construction methods and/or inadequate materials. Unconscionable builders may not mix concrete properly or may not reinforce it effectively to achieve the desired compressive strength. Additionally, they may not use the optimal amount of steel in the structures they erect. Buildings thus constructed become susceptible to failure under seismic loading.

The problem compounds manifold if builders give the go-by to local building codes or if authorities either do not do their inspections and keep an eye on quality control or deliberately look the other way.

Modern builders who function honestly will incorporate the latest building techniques recommended for a particular geography, no matter what the cost. Earthquake-resistant construction, for instance, does not come cheap. Fabricating a building or structure that can withstand strong temblors, thereby minimizing structural damage and loss of life, has a premium price attached to it. But builders of repute will not cut corners and compromise on the safety of occupants. No matter what the cost, they will adhere to the required practices to put up safe structures.

Unscrupulous builders should be called out for erecting vulnerable infrastructure; in fact, they should not be allowed to operate. Human lives are at stake, and adopting transparent, modern building practices should become the norm. Anything less than that is unacceptable.


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