BROOKE GLADSTONE This is On the Media, I'm Brooke Gladstone. Now on to a disaster across the globe and the attendant mixed messages.
AL JAZEERA It's been ten days since the quakes toppled tens of thousands of buildings across Turkiye and Syria.
CNN The skies over Turkey are continuously pierced, with the sound of helicopter blades still performing crucial search and rescue.
DW NEWS The window for finding people alive is closing fast.
DW NEWS Of what Turkey has described as the biggest catastrophe of the century.
BROOKE GLADSTONE The magnitude 7.8 quake was the strongest that turkey perched atop fault lines had endured in over 80 years. But still, the horrific ever-rising death toll demanded accountability, or at least the appearance thereof.
MSNBC Earlier today, the justice minister in Turkey said the detainment warrants had been issued for 134 people that the government suspects of potentially being responsible for shoddy construction that could have led to the loss of life.
DW NEWS The government has vowed to punish anyone responsible. But critics say Turkey's construction codes are rarely enforced.
DW NEWS Political pressure is building on President Tayyip Erdogan over his handling of the crisis. The head of defense, Minister Hulusi Akar, admitted that after two days, only seven and a half thousand soldiers have been deployed in an area that encompassed ten large cities.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Some critics say the worst offense, however, was the initial delay in rescue efforts. The first few days after can be the most crucial for survival.
GÖNÜL TOL My sister and her family live in Antakya, and Antakya is one of the worst hit cities in the country. It's on the southern border with Syria.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Gönül Tol, founding director of the Middle East Institute's Turkey program, was on the ground in Turkey last week.
GÖNÜL TOL A few hours after the earthquake hit, the entire city had leveled to the ground and my sister's in-laws remain trapped under the rubble. So my sister and her family and her husband tried to dig them out with their bare hands. When they finally did pull out their father. There was a concrete block on his leg, so they needed equipment to be able to lift that concrete block. My family waited for 48 hours for the rescue workers, and when they finally did arrive, they told us that they could not help us because they had received instructions to focus their rescue work elsewhere.
BROOKE GLADSTONE He died.
GÖNÜL TOL He died.
BROOKE GLADSTONE I'm so sorry.
GÖNÜL TOL Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE When your family was told, We can't do this right now. We have other orders. What were their orders?
GÖNÜL TOL Well, one of them told us that they were looking for an office that belonged to the family members of a member of parliament from Istanbul. This is just a symptom of a larger problem, which is the centralization of power.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Cast your mind back to 1999, Turkey had another shattering earthquake. It killed over 18,000 people. Erdogan campaigned on a platform of solving all the problems that had caused the government to respond so sluggishly. He would wipe away corruption and collusion between business and government. He'd rebuild the economy. But what did he actually accomplish in that 20 plus years?
GÖNÜL TOL Not much. You're right. He blamed all the ills of the 1990s on widespread corruption, dysfunctional governments and unresponsive state institutions, and he promised things would change radically. And many people believed him. He comes from an Islamist background. And yet social Democrats voted for him. Liberals voted for him. Not just the conservatives, but Erdogan hollowed out state institutions, wiped out most vibrant civil society organizations, and basically enriched his cronies to create a small circle of loyalists around him. In the 1990s, my country had many problems, and yet we did have institutions and now none of those institutions are there.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Throughout the 20 tens, Erdogan was on a construction spree counting on all of this building to inflate the economy, which it did at least temporarily. More jobs, more manufacturing. Much of this to replace the buildings that fell in 1999. You say that the people who benefited most from this building over the long haul were a small circle of friends from the construction sector?
GÖNÜL TOL That's right. By awarding them all infrastructure projects without competitive tenders or proper regulatory oversight, and these companies embarked on a massive building spree constructing in earthquake hotspots without following proper building codes. In Hatay, for instance, that's where my sister and her family lived. One of the areas hardest hit by Monday's earthquake residential buildings, hospitals and even the local branch of the Turkish disaster and emergency management presidency, all built by Erdogan's cronies. They were either leveled to the ground or suffered massive damage. The town's only airport built on top of a fault line by a company closely tied to Erdogan. It was split in two by the earthquake.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Are you saying that a lot of the buildings that fell were the newer buildings and older buildings were left standing?
GÖNÜL TOL That's partly true. According to experts and some state agencies, 51% of the buildings that collapsed in Monday's earthquake, they were built after Erdogan came to power. But old buildings collapsed, too, because Erdogan oversaw a sweeping amnesty program that forgave faults in millions of buildings.
BROOKE GLADSTONE What is an amnesty for a building?
GÖNÜL TOL It means it should be demolished. And yet Erdogan granted them an amnesty and they were allowed to stand.
BROOKE GLADSTONE I see. What about inspection companies? Weren't they sent around to check these places out?
GÖNÜL TOL Well, in Hatay, many of these inspection companies belong to these construction companies – to inspect their buildings.
BROOKE GLADSTONE You've written about the Turkish disaster and emergency management presidency, otherwise known as AFAD. It should have been instrumental in coordinating the relief effort. You say that it entirely was not.
GÖNÜL TOL Can you imagine? You are the main disaster and emergency management agency in a country like Turkey, which is prone to earthquakes and natural disasters, and yet you do not have a tent. Your budget is much smaller than the budget of the Directorate for Religious Affairs, and the person who is in charge is graduated from Department of Theology, and he has no previous experience in disaster management.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Why him?
GÖNÜL TOL Well, that's the story of Erdogan's Turkey. That's what he does. He put loyalists in key positions. And this is the result.
BROOKE GLADSTONE One thing I'm curious about is the earthquake tax that was introduced in the aftermath of the 1999 quake. Homeowners pay it every year along with their property taxes. 1999 was a long time ago. By now, that fund should have been valued in billions.
GÖNÜL TOL That's right.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Where did the money go?
GÖNÜL TOL $38 billion in earthquake tax. And yet we don't know what happened to that money.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Did anybody ask Erdogan?
GÖNÜL TOL Of course. Opposition parties, journalists, experts, they're all asking the same question: what happened to our earthquake tax money? And we haven't received an answer.
BROOKE GLADSTONE With thousands still buried under the rubble, he seems to be very busy spinning a narrative that this was an inevitability, a huge, unprecedented earthquake bound to kill on a mass scale, that it was impossible to prepare for a disaster like this. How is he getting that message out?
GÖNÜL TOL From the early hours, that's what his government was doing. Trying to push the narrative that this was the disaster of the century, that no government in the world could have responded to this earthquake. Yes, powerful earthquakes kill people, but they are more deadly in countries like Turkey, where the interests of a corrupt few are prioritized above all else. So this is not a natural disaster. This is a manmade disaster.
BROOKE GLADSTONE After the earthquake hit, you say he neglected to dispatch troops or rescue agencies, but he did work on a video.
GÖNÜL TOL Yes, it was the presidency's communications directorate that prepared it.. It was a very clumsily made video. Some of the experts that he included in that video came out later and said that their words had been manipulated. They all accept that this is a huge tragedy, that this is a huge disaster, but no one is saying that the government could not have helped.
BROOKE GLADSTONE So what does a well-constructed response to the earthquake look like?
GÖNÜL TOL There are things that you have to do before the earthquake hits. And the number one priority should be to construct stronger buildings, to direct the builders, to follow the regulations, safety codes and building codes. And also, you have to empower the very institutions that are in charge of responding, put people with the necessary background in charge of those institutions. So those are the things that you should be doing before the earthquake hits. And then there are things that you must do after the earthquake hits, and that is Turkey has the second largest army in NATO. So the president should have dispatched the military. If there were Turkish troops on the ground helping the victims, taking part in search and rescue efforts. The death toll would not have been this high.
BROOKE GLADSTONE When he was first elected. Did you have any hope in his governance?
GÖNÜL TOL I did, because the 1990s, it was a lost decade. I was young at the time, but I remember how unstable the country was at the time and all political parties were corrupt. So here came a politician who promised that he would do away with corruption, rebuild stronger, more responsive institutions. He would push hard for Turkey to become a more democratic, more prosperous country and EU member country, so he said all the right things and and I believed him.
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