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A four-phase plan is being prepared by the ministry as it aims to enact a special earthquake law for Istanbul as part of its efforts to ensure the megacity’s preparedness for possible high-magnitude tremors, Minister Mehmet Özhaseki said

In a move to enhance Istanbul’s preparedness for an anticipated high-magnitude earthquake, the Ministry of Environment, Urbanization and Climate Change is in the process of devising a comprehensive four-phase plan as part of the aim to enact a special earthquake law, Minister Mehmet Özhaseki said Wednesday.

Quick steps are being undertaken to prepare the law, the minister said during his meeting with media executives in Istanbul, hinting that Türkiye’s Grand National Assembly (TBMM) could convene in an extraordinary session regarding the topic.

The question of the earthquake in Istanbul was topping the country’s agenda following the massive quakes in Türkiye’s southeast that killed over 50,000 and left hundreds of thousands of buildings destroyed.

The city that last suffered heavy damage from earthquakes in 1999 is on edge in light of the repeated warnings by experts about the anticipated “big one,” an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 or higher.

“We started the meetings by inviting 39 district municipalities and metropolitan municipalities in Istanbul. We have a four-step plan,” Özhaseki said.

Pointing out that first, there is ongoing urban transformation work, the minister told journalists that the transformation project currently continues in 188 locations in all 39 districts of the city. “At the moment, the renovation works of around 165,000 residences are underway,” he added. “In the second stage, we determined the reserve housing areas. In these areas, we can build new solid, reliable houses for up to 350,000. I think that we will take the second step of earthquake preparation by moving the most risky structures to new locations,” he said.

“Third, we have another campaign that was announced before the election, and that is the ‘Half of Us’ campaign,” Özhaseki stated, referring to the campaign through which the state assists citizens to demolish and rebuild their buildings by covering half of the cost.

Özhaeski noted that over 1 million applications had been registered so far as part of the project, including independent housing entities and common applications. He said that the number of buildings with 100% agreements stands at 14,000, which equals 71,000 independent units. “In the fourth stage, we are considering enacting a special law for Istanbul. We want to take the measures to eliminate whatever obstacles we have encountered in the urban transformation work in Istanbul, which has been going on for 11 years, and enact the law,” he underlined.

The minister recalled that some 800,000 independent sections had been renewed in Istanbul since 2012, detailing that the transformation process requires expediting as there are approximately 1.5 million more units considered to be risky at the moment.

Calling for the inclusion of all relevant parties who want to contribute to this work in Istanbul and join hands with authorities, Özhaseki asserted that it is necessary to act fast by taking quick steps in this regard. “Even if Parliament is not in its working period, we will invite them to convene for this effort,” he said.

Coordinating the effort among the parties, which include the ministry, municipalities and the citizens, is crucial in terms of accomplishing the stated goals for the transformation, the minister said, noting that the topic will be exempt from political discussions.

“Because earthquake risk is a situation that is above politics. The third pillar of this work is the citizen. If the citizen does not consent here, if he starts to resist, there is really nothing to be done. If we are to prepare Istanbul and Türkiye for large earthquakes, we must work together to overcome this as soon as possible. Let’s all know this: Türkiye is an earthquake-prone country. This heaven-like homeland has such a disadvantage. That is why the triangle of ministry, municipality and citizen is indispensable for us,” he maintained.

Regarding the normalization and the rebuilding process in the earthquake zone, the minister reiterated that the new buildings would not be allowed to be built on or close to the fault lines. Following the 7.7 and 7.6 tremors in early February, the government pledged a swift recovery to complete the construction of 319,000 houses for the earthquake survivors within the first year. Özhaseki additionally elaborated on the “On-Site Transformation Project,” which was launched last month to provide grants and financial support to people who want to reconstruct their structures in quake-ravaged areas. He said that the individuals who suffered losses in the earthquakes would be eligible for a grant varying from TL 500,000 ($18,500) to TL 800,000  during the construction phase.

The loans will have a 10-year maturity period with a two-year grace period, he noted. Istanbul, the country’s most populated city, sits on the North Anatolian Fault (NAF), an active right-lateral strike-slip fault in northern Anatolia that poses a significant risk of causing a high-magnitude earthquake at any time. More than 17,000 people were killed and over 43,000 were injured when a magnitude 7.4 quake rocked the Marmara region for 37 seconds in the early hours of Aug. 17, 1999, with its epicenter located in Gölcük province, some 75 kilometers (46 miles) southeast of the Bosporus.

Türkiye is among the world’s most seismically active countries as it is situated on several active fault lines, and dozens of minor earthquakes and aftershocks occur daily.

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