Finance vs policy – Middle East Monitor

“It is like The Pianist movie scene with collapsed buildings. Just like how Roman Polanski depicts a city of a war-torn country with devastated cities. Now, Kahramanmaras is the same.” This is how one of my journalist friends who witnessed the devastation of the earthquakes described the scenes the day after. Since then, the Turkish economy has been facing its biggest challenge in the country’s modern history.

On 6 February, 2023, a series of massive earthquakes – the largest measuring 7.8 magnitude – hit regions in south and central Turkiye and in the north and west of Syria. Over 50,000 people were killed, and thousands more remain missing.

The affected areas are home to 15 per cent of the country’s population but only contribute to approximately nine per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and ten per cent of industrial value added. According to the ongoing determinations of the Ministry of Environment, Urbanisation and Climate Change, it has been determined that 384,545 residential units require urgent demolition, and 133,575 independent units are moderately damaged and need repair. Detection work continues. In addition, buildings were destroyed and damaged by the aftershock of the 20 February events. Taking all this into account, the numbers are increasing.

The Turkish Enterprise and Business Confederation estimated the cost of reconstruction at over $80 billion in its preliminary report issued four days after the quakes.

READ: Turkiye begins to rebuild for 1.5m made homeless by earthquakes

According to the World Bank, the direct damage resulting from the earthquakes is estimated at $34.2 billion, with reconstruction costs for emergency response and a surge in the costs of construction amounting to twice as much. The Turkish government has pledged more than $5 billion towards the recovery effort.

Robert Barro and Xavier Sala Martin mentioned in Economic Growth that earthquakes have significant negative repercussions on economic growth. One report by the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkiye (TEPAV) suggested that the amount required to develop the earthquake zone was estimated at $150 billion in a five-year development plan. Furthermore, the recent earthquakes will also reduce economic growth by 1.2 points. While it is predicted that poverty and income inequality will increase in the earthquake areas, Turkiye must intensify its cooperation with international organisations to carry out post-earthquake development programmes efficiently and effectively.

In the long term, environmental and public health issues will affect the people in the quake regions. The ever-growing pile of rubble poses a threat to residents. Many of the destroyed buildings contain asbestos, and human remains are still buried under the rubble. Presently, people live in metal shipping containers and tents in sweltering heat reaching 42 degrees Celsius without access to air conditioning. Residents also contend with flies, snakes and other wildlife while living outdoors.

Due to internal environmental problems and economic challenges, the country was forced to withdraw from global international events. Turkiye’s government has recently announced that it could not host a major United Nations biodiversity meeting in 2024 as it attempts to contend with the consequences of the earthquakes.

OPINION: Arab world shows unprecedented solidarity with quake-hit Turkiye

Under the current circumstances, Turkiye will have to support pop-up shops in the many vacant sites in the demolished cities. Such installations and events will help keep city life and urban well-being going during the slow post-quake rebuild. The new policies should focus on the need for swift transitions in urban energy, economic and ecological infrastructures and transport and building systems to foster community and ecological well-being – all of which require people to collaborate, experiment and learn.

In Kahramanmaras, a region that encompasses both centres of the initial quakes and some of the worst destruction, there are still moderately damaged buildings that did not collapse. Transitioning cities to more resilient, circular and ecological systems, heavily damaged or moderately damaged buildings should be demolished in the ongoing process. Collaborating horizontally across communities and governance organisations is also necessary for effective change to fight against Turkiye’s faster and cheaper construction sector to make cities greener, build smarter infrastructure and improve living standards.

Ultimately, the funds collected by the special communication tax, known as the “earthquake tax”, implemented after the 1999 earthquake during the 20-year Justice and Development Party rule between 2003-2022, was 86 billion 138 million liras according to the Ministry of Treasury and Finance, and are crucial during this phase. “Where are the earthquake taxes?” is a question at the forefront of the minds of victims as they await the reconstruction of new sustainable cities.

READ: Earthquakes caused $84bn in damages to Turkiye economy

One cannot over-emphasise the need for genuine community leadership and cooperation in municipalities. This is fundamental and necessary for transitioning to the more equitable and resilient urban systems needed during this period of change.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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