Earthquake Shows Turkey’s Cities Didn’t Get The Care They Need

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According to The Associated Press, a Turkish government agency has acknowledged that more than half of all buildings in the country don’t meet earthquake standards.

L’Aquila, like Antakya, lies in a notorious earthquake zone. A quake in L’Aquila in 1349 killed 800 residents; another in 1703 killed more than 3,000, prompting Pope Clement XI to send priests and nuns freed of their celibacy to repopulate the city.

The quake in 2009 killed more than 300 people, destroyed hundreds of historical buildings and left tens of thousands homeless. Italian authorities rushed to resettle survivors in tents and temporary housing on the outskirts of town and on the coast, promising to rebuild what had been destroyed.

A boastful Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister at the time, declared these “new towns” and prefab houses an “Italian miracle.” But these sad, costly, cramped settlements, disconnected from transit and civic life, became permanent as the years passed; there were probes into contractors’ links with the mafia; and L’Aquila’s recovery stalled.

You may rightly ask about the logic of rebuilding time and again in these risky places. The notion comes up around a different threat: climate change. Scientists predict large-scale migrations in the coming years from zones where rising seas, floods, droughts and extreme weather will make life increasingly difficult or impossible. Already, climate change has displaced millions of people around the world.

But logic is not the point.

Cities are only nominally bricks and mortar, after all. To residents they are repositories of a hairbrush and a photograph — collective threads of a social fabric that, over time, weave together a life, a family, a history, a neighborhood, a community. The least government can be expected to do is ensure that buildings and streets are up to code and that cities answer to the needs of their residents, not to developers and politicians. But in much of the world that’s the exception.

When I returned to L’Aquila a few years after the quake, I found a group of men chatting in the empty Piazza Duomo. One of them, a retired lawyer named Antonio Antonacci, told me that his house had been lost in the quake. He moved in with relatives an hour or so away.


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