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Cablegate: Istanbul,S Unplanned Growth Enhances Vulnerability

VZCZCXYZ0001
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHIT #0390/01 2861356
ZNR UUUUU ZZH (CCY ADC37364 MSI4881-695)
P 131356Z OCT 09
FM AMCONSUL ISTANBUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9272
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA 8469
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEKJCS/DIA WASHDC
RUFOADA/JAC MOLESWORTH RAF MOLESWORTH UK
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RHEHAAA/WHITE HOUSE WASHDC

UNCLAS ISTANBUL 000390

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS
C O R R E C T E D C OPY CAPTION

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: CASC ECON PREL TU
SUBJECT: ISTANBUL,S UNPLANNED GROWTH ENHANCES VULNERABILITY
TO NATURAL DISASTERS

REF: ISTANBUL 344


1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The uncontrolled sprawling growth of the
city of Istanbul puts its citizens at great risk in the event
of a natural disaster. Construction standards have improved
since the 1999 Marmara earthquake that killed over 30,000
people, yet illegal housing that lacks these standards
comprises the lion,s share of new structures. The city also
lacks an urban plan that brings together relevant agencies to
manage future growth. Finally, Turkish society,s
hierarchical orientation leads people to look to the
government for help during a crisis, but, as a local expert
counters, educating people to prepare for and respond to a
disaster will save more lives.

--------------------------------------------- -------
Istanbul - The Unplanned Metropolis
--------------------------------------------- -------

2. (SBU) Natural disasters, such as the 1999 Marmara
earthquake that killed over 30,000 people and last month,s
deadly floods (reftel), show limitations in the city,s
preparation and response to these events. The main culprit
in both these tragedies according to many academics is the
large amount of illegal construction (&gecekondos8 in
Turkish) that sprouted over the past three decades as the
city went from a population of less than 3 million to an
official population of 12.5 million. Many academics put this
at least a million higher.


3. (SBU) According to Mahmut Bas, the Director for the
Municipality,s Disaster and Ground Analysis Directorate,
construction standards have improved tremendously since the
1999 earthquake, yet he admitted much of the new housing in
Istanbul was illegally built and bypassed any regulation.
(NOTE: Government statistics state 60 percent of Istanbul,s
housing is illegally built. END NOTE). Moreover, most of the
buildings constructed before 1999 have not been retrofitted
to meet current standards. Bas told us the city is planning
to replace or retrofit these buildings, but most of this
sub-standard construction still exists. The city has updated
many of its municipal buildings, although Bas noted many of
the hospitals still do not meet sufficient earthquake
standards. Furthermore, it is the non-municipal buildings
that have the greatest need, yet it is difficult for the city
to fit these private structures. The Municipality has
condemned some sub-standard buildings as structurally
incapable to survive a serious earthquake. Bas did concede
to us that these actions are a drop in the bucket compared to
the amount of illegal housing being built every day.

4. (SBU) Another problem is that Istanbul lacks a real Urban
Plan that brings together relevant agencies (transportation,
fire services, housing) to plan future growth. Bas did tell
us his office developed an earthquake disaster plan for the
city, which was by three respected Istanbul Universities.
(NOTE: An English version of this detailed document can be
found at the Istanbul Municipality,s Earthquake and Ground
Analysis web site. END NOTE) Bas however, told us other city
departments, such as fire, police and transportation agencies
did not provide input into this earthquake plan. (COMMENT:
Leaving out these critical agencies from this document
seriously degrades the utility of this well-intentioned work.
It appears this massive plan is only an academic exercise
that will have no impact on future developments. END
COMMENT).

----------------------------------
In Case of Disaster: Call the City
----------------------------------

5. (SBU) Mikdat Kadioglu, Disaster Preparedness Expert and
former consultant to the city told us Istanbul unfortunately
takes an extremely hierarchical response to disasters.
Instead of distributing earthquake preparedness information
to all citizens of Istanbul, the municipality chooses to
direct its resources to a centralized disaster center (AKOM)
and a specialized response team. Kadioglu laments that this
is the traditional way Turks response to problems, for they
look to the government to act. And the government responds
with &heroic men doing heroic things8 in high profile

vehicles or helicopters. However, more lives can be saved,
or lost, during the first minutes of an earthquake long
before the rescue teams arrive.

6. (SBU) Kadioglu said the government should provide citizens
information on how to make their homes safe during an
earthquake and steps to take in the event of a disaster.
Every community should have trained volunteers ready to
provide their neighbors with medical and other assistance.
However, Kadioglu told us this is not how Turks do things,
and it will take education to change this outlook. Kadioglu
-- who has worked with U.S., Japanese, and other earthquake
experts -- has tried to communicate what he has learned to
the city, but he recently resigned in disgust over their
failure to move away from the traditional hierarchical
approach to disaster preparedness. To make matters worse,
according to Kadioglu, city leaders often shun their
responsibilities by claiming these deaths were caused by an
act of God. He said earthquake and floods are acts of God,
but people are killed when leaders failed to prepare its
citizens for these events.

7. (SBU) Comment: The urban development of Istanbul is not
planned, arising out of a the lack of political will to block
and remove illegal construction and the failure of municipal
elements to come together and develop a comprehensive city
plan. This is to the detriment of the citizens of Istanbul
during their daily lives, but it turns deadly when a disaster
strikes. Furthermore, the municipality,s centralized
emergency response plan is woefully unrealistic. In typical
Istanbul traffic, it can takes hours to reach some parts of
the city. During a major crisis, it could likely take days
for the city to respond to all the citizens (and Istanbul
tourists and visitors) in need ) a potential issue for
participants in any future international disaster relief
response. Kadioglu,s desire to have trained neighbors
respond appears to the better option. Having these volunteers
respond to the site of a disaster in minutes will save more
lives than the municipality,s &heroic men8 who arrive on
the scene hours later or international relief response teams
in the following days.
WIENER

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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