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In Earthquake Rescue Efforts, Why is the Turkish Military Conspicuously Absent?

News footage from the earthquake disaster sites shows it is private organizations that are playing a prominent role in the rescue and recovery efforts.



Muhammed Enes Yeninar, a 17-year-old earthquake survivor, is rescued from the rubble of a building some 198 hours after last week's devastating earthquake, in Adiyaman, Turkey February 14, 2023. Ismail Coskun/Ihlas News Agency (IHA) via REUTERS

The expression "72-hour wall" has been widely used since the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of 1995. 

The survivability rate for victims of an earthquake is 80% if rescued on the day of the event. But it quickly drops to 29% the following day, and to 22% on the third day. On the fourth day, the chances of a victim surviving plummet to a mere 6%.

Of course, rescue efforts will continue even following the golden 72 hours. In the case of the major quake that struck southern Turkey on February 6, survivors were still being discovered amidst the rubble even after 150 hours had elapsed. These amazing rescues resulted from the efforts of search and rescue team members from more than 60 countries who are risking their own lives to help the victims.

The Japan Disaster Relief Rescue Team heads for Turkey on the night of February 6 to aid in the aftermath of the earthquake in Turkey. (© Kyodo)

Earthquake-Prone Countries

The Japanese team includes members of the Tokyo Fire Department's Hyper Rescue Task Force. This special unit boasts advanced technology and state-of-the-art equipment that enable it to perform life-saving operations after various kinds of major disasters. Significantly, it was established based on lessons learned from the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. 

Turkey is like Japan, an earthquake-prone land. A good example of that is the major earthquake that occurred in northwestern Turkey in August 1999. Tragically, it left more than 17,000 people dead and around 600,000 homeless. 

The government at that time was severely criticized for its inept response to the calamity, causing its downfall three years later. That brought to power Turkey's current president, Recep Erdogan

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan during a meeting in Sochi, Russia August 5, 2022. Sputnik/Vyacheslav Prokofyev/Pool via REUTERS

Turkey's 'Earthquake Tax'

The Erdogan government introduced a new earthquake tax under the guise of a disaster countermeasure. It was supposed to have resulted in the enforcement of more stringent earthquake resistance standards for buildings. 

Nevertheless, it is not clear how the huge amount of revenue raised from the tax was actually spent. One thing is for sure: When the quake hit, many buildings collapsed like a house of cards, ending up as flat as a pancake. Authorities in Turkey have since issued arrest warrants for 113 builders and others for their involvement in illegal construction.

Many buildings collapsed in an earthquake in southeastern Turkey near the Syrian border on February 6. (© Getty via Kyodo)

Where is the Turkish Military?

News footage from the disaster sites shows private organizations playing a prominent role in the rescue and recovery efforts. Conspicuously absent for the most part, however, is coverage of what the Turkish military is doing in the disaster zone. That, despite the fact that in some areas looting and robberies have reportedly become so widespread that rescue teams have been forced to suspend operations. 

The death toll from the earthquake in Turkey has already exceeded 30,000. Unfortunately, it is now increasingly looking like a man-made disaster.


(Read this Sankei Sho column in Japanese.)

Author: The Sankei Shimbun

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