Istanbul, city buildings

An earthquake in Istanbul would damage 20% of its buildings

An official report presented to the Turkish parliament warns that a future major earthquake in Istanbul would demolish 48,000 buildings.

An earthquake in Istanbul would cause serious or very serious damage to 20% of the city’s buildings, according to a report prepared by the city’s metropolitan city council – which was presented last week before the Turkish parliament – in which the “catastrophic” damage that would cause a future great earthquake of intensity greater than 7 is assessed.

The report was prepared jointly by the local councils of the Avcılar and Esenler districts, both located on the outskirts of Istanbul’s European side, and was presented on February 18 before the parliamentary commission that studies the measures to be carried out in Turkey against earthquakes: reveals a bleak outlook in which some 200,000 buildings would suffer medium or high level damage, affecting about 3 million inhabitants.

Istanbul’s population is officially almost 16 million, making it the largest city in Turkey and one of the most populous in Europe; however, Turkey is a very seismically active country, and for years experts have been warning that the Bosphorus metropolis must prepare for a major earthquake greater than 7 degrees: it is not a question of if it will occur, but of when.

The problem in districts like Esenler is that most of their buildings were built during the time of the great migration from the countryside to the cities that Turkey lived in the 70s and 80s, in which many buildings were hastily erected to house the growing population without proper planning and without adequate structural studies.

A major earthquake in Istanbul would demolish 48,000 buildings

In Esenler the average age of the district’s buildings is high, 33 years, and most of the constructions were made before the Great Marmara Earthquake of 1999 forced to tighten the anti-earthquake legislation. The report notes that the situation is also no better in districts like Avcılar or in neighbouring Silivri, where the number of buildings with serious structural problems has multiplied by 4 and by 2, respectively.

In statements to the media made by Tayfun Kahraman, a member of the municipal department of urban transformation, he warned that a possible earthquake of great intensity would leave at least 20% of the 1.16 million buildings registered in Istanbul too damaged and therefore unusable to be inhabited, adding that many of them would collapse from the earthquake.

According to Kahraman, the future “Big One” in Istanbul would seriously damage or collapse 48,000 buildings throughout the city, and also damage gas and water supply infrastructures. “The earthquake would generate economic losses of approximately 120 billion liras (14 billion euros), a figure that would increase because this earthquake will affect the entire Turkish economy. I am confident that we will avoid a situation like this in Istanbul,” he said.

In addition to warning of the risk of serious damage to buildings in Istanbul, the report recommends improving the city’s transport networks and infrastructure, including highways, bridges and viaducts; it also suggests creating an inventory of the city’s water reserves and a plan for their distribution in the event of a disaster. The city council is already working on a plan to create temporary shelters associated with these water reserves.