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President Erdoğan returns to Türkiye’s quake zone with pledges

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, accompanied by MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli and BBP leader Mustafa Destici, flew to earthquake-hit Kahramanmaraş on Tuesday in his third visit to the area since the tremors, vowing to rebuild cities 'just as we did after past disasters'

Eleven provinces rocked by earthquakes on Feb. 6 in Türkiye’s south remain at the top of the agenda for the government. In his third visit to Kahramanmaraş, at the epicenter of the disaster, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was accompanied by Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli and Great Union Party (BBP) Chair Mustafa Destici on Tuesday.

Erdoğan’s first stopover was the Elbistan district of Kahramanmaraş, one of the worst-hit towns. He was scheduled to visit the Afşin district later before heading to the Doğanşehir district in Malatya province. The president inspected relief efforts in his stopovers and met earthquake victims staying in tents or prefabricated housing units.

Speaking at a disaster coordinator center in Elbistan, Erdoğan urged locals to stay away from damaged buildings. On Monday, two people were killed in a fresh earthquake in Malatya and both had entered damaged buildings to salvage their possessions.

Erdoğan said they accomplished the evacuation of 20,300 earthquake victims from the disaster zone and were continuing to set up tents and prefabricated housing units for the displaced. He said 461,000 people were accommodated in those areas in Kahramanmaraş. “We delivered 77,000 tents and made arrangements for installing 24,000 housing units,” he said.

The president vowed that everyone who lost their homes in the earthquake-hit region will be resettled in new houses the state would construct for them, “just as we did for people who lost their homes in other disasters,” he said, referring to victims of past earthquakes in Elazığ and İzmir.

He said they would start construction of 309,000 residences in the disaster zone in a few months and in Kahramanmaraş, they would build 83,000 houses in cities and towns and another 18,000 houses in the villages. “I want you to wait for one year only,” he told earthquake survivors. “We cannot bring our dead back, but we have enough power to heal our wounds,” he said.

The president noted that they would also swiftly "transform" places at risk, referring to the government's ambitious urban transformation project. "We will work hard to end the days that buildings collapse and our people are trapped in the rubble," he said.

Urban transformation work by the government in the past two decades to make buildings resistant to disasters faced a significant obstacle: municipalities run by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), and chambers of architects and urban planners. The issue is under the spotlight following the Feb. 6 earthquakes, during which almost all buildings built before 1999 were destroyed, according to the Ministry of Environment, Urban Planning and Climate Change.

Türkiye has made a series of reforms since the 1999 earthquake, which killed thousands in its northwestern region, to prevent massive destruction in future disasters. Urban transformation, which involves the demolition of decrepit buildings not resistant to earthquakes and other disasters and their replacement with sturdy buildings, is one of the steps taken by the government. Yet, the opposition parties, including the CHP, joined by other organizations, shunned support for urban transformation and instead led the efforts for a barrage of lawsuits against transformation projects. The CHP, its current ally the Good Party (IP), and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) are among those openly opposing the transformation projects and the government’s moves to declare “risky” areas, the first step of urban transformation, in 32 provinces.


ISTANBULFEB 28, 2023 )