Recent Natural Disasters in Turkey: An Overview of the National Technological Capacity and Its Utilization

Originally published
Summary of the Presentation by the UN Resident Coordinator in Turkey
Recent Natural Disasters in Turkey

1. The last two years have been particularly trying times for Turkey because of the violent impact of natural disasters. In 1998, in May and August there were floods in the Black Sea region and some 2.2 million persons over an area of 37,000 sq. km were affected. Although less than 100 people lost their lives, economic losses were estimated at $500 million. On June 27, 1998, a major earthquake with a magnitude of 6.2 occurred near Ceyhan, in the Mediterranean region. This earthquake was felt over many urban centers in the area, and caused 145 deaths and either destroyed or seriously damaged 25,000 residential or commercial units. The financial burden to the domestic economy was estimated as one-half billion dollars.

2. Earthquakes continued to wreak destruction at even a greater pace in Turkey during 1999. Seismologically speaking, the magnitude-7.4 Marmara Sea region earthquake on August 17, 1999 that centered around Gölc=FCk in the province of Kocaeli was really a succession of several major earthquakes, each triggering the next one. The length of the observable faulting was 130 km, and cut a narrow swath of destruction through Yalova, Karam=FCrsel, Gölc=FCk, Izmit (capital of Kocaeli province), Adapazari and D=FCzce within Bolu. The number of certified deaths in this event are 20,000, with 50,000 injuries. Close to 350,000 residential and commercial units were destroyed. This calamity caused widespread destruction also to major transportation routes, sea front facilities, factories, refineries and the many industrial units in Kocaeli that accounts for 35 percent of Turkey's GDP. Sakarya was similarly impacted. Estimates of the economic losses are in the range of $15-20 billion. Though it is improbable according to conventional seismological circumstances, a magnitude-7.2 earthquake hit D=FCzce on November 12, 1999 (86 days after the first shock) that caused further destruction in that area.

National Response during the Recent Disasters

3. The Turkish disaster management system has proven credible in responding to most major disasters that Turkey has experienced in the last decades. In the recent disasters described briefly above, however, certain weaknesses in the system were exposed.

4. Prior to the flooding in the Black Sea the Government had given little attention to the capabilities for forecasting and early warning and had instead made substantial investment in local flood protection infrastructure. Hence, neither advance warning of the flood prone areas nor their evacuation could be accomplished before this disaster. Higher casualties were only prevented by the leadership and innovative crisis management of the national and local authorities in spite of the breakdown of communications and the inadequacy in emergency equipment and information systems.

5. The demands of the emergency of the Marmara earthquake of 17 August, on the other hand, overwhelmed the whole Turkish disaster management system. Critical elements of the national communication infrastructure were debilitated. The main fiber optic cable between the two main metropolises of Istanbul and Ankara, the backbone of telephone connections into this region, was severed. Similarly, two main substations on the electric power grid were damaged causing a power blackout across the country. At the same time, there was severe damage on the motorway between Izmit and Ankara.

All this had three effects:

  • Compounded with the sudden increase in the demand for information from the region, both of families and of authorities, both the cellular and regular phone systems collapsed.
  • As a result and in addition to national emergency response teams, regular people seeking to help relatives and friends rushed to the road clogging the motorways and preventing crucial emergency help from reaching the site on time.
  • Authorities could not get the site-specific information, which would have enabled them to send the right type of help to the right locations.
6. The national crisis system very quickly organized itself and immediate measures such as sending satellite phones to the region were taken to improve communications. Nevertheless, it took over 48 crucial response hours before communications began to return and response efforts could make any progress.

Overview of Existing Technological Capacity for Mitigation

7. In Turkey, there exist a number of government agencies and academic and research establishments that have technological tools at their disposal for assessment and mitigation purposes. The utilization of these tools is largely at the initiative of the agencies themselves, and coordination or pooling of these resources are not always possible. In recognition of this situation, which prevents the effective coordination of information, as well as the deficiencies in the existing technologies, the Government of Turkey launched a World Bank funded program, code-named TEFER (Turkey Emergency Flood and Earthquake Recovery project). Devised in response to the two floods and the one earthquake that occurred in 1998, the programme had several components one of which identified flood management and hazard reduction as top priority.

8. The three national agencies, the General Directorates of State Hydraulic Works (DSI), Meteorological Affairs (DMI) and Electrical Power Resources Survey and Development Administration (EIE) teamed up to implement this component. This included the procurement of Doppler radar stations, satellite data receiving and processing stations, and the required training to run the central stations that were established, all with the aim of enhancing early warning capabilities.

9. The remaining component of TEFER was centered on improving the information management capacity of the General Directorate of Disaster Affairs (GDDA), which is the agency responsible for geological hazards mitigation. GDDA is actively involved in a number of active international partnerships. Among these it is possible to cite the Earthquake Disaster Prevention Project with the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) whereby a broadband tele-seismic network for earthquake loss estimation purposes has been established in nine provinces in central and northern Turkey. During the June 6, 2000 magnitude 6.1 earthquake that centered near =C7ankiri this system was triggered, and accurate ground motion data recovered in Ankara relieved the anxious public that no serious damage had occurred. Yet, this prototype for modeling the extent of the damage once a disaster has struck is currently used as a research tool and does not carry the advanced defaults that will make up for inadequacies in the collection of information during an emergency.

10. GDDA also manages the national strong motion network in Turkey. GDDA's collaboration with the Geoforschungszentrum in Potsdam, Germany runs the earthquake forecasting investigations. TURKNET is GDDA's national seismological network. During recent earthquakes, these facilities produced much of the scientific data on which government-level decisions could be based. At the same time, because they had been set to observe lower magnitudes, the analogue seismometers were saturated in the Marmara earthquake and informed of a much weaker event. It follows also that the existing seismic sensor array in Turkey is very sparse and needs to be upgraded.

11. Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Center, affiliated with Bogaziçi University since 1983, has managed a seismic network around the Sea of Marmara, and has divisions for geophysics, geodesy and earthquake engineering where satellite imagery and remote sensing data are processed for dissemination. The Internet sites for this type of data have been in heavy demand in the aftermath of the 1999 earthquakes.

12. The General Directorate for Mineral Research and Exploration (MTA) is roughly equivalent to the US Geological Survey. They have capability to process space technology for geology and geophysical research. This potential was utilized for assessing the extent of floods and scope of earthquake-caused damages. With the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), MTA has advised ministries for suitable settlement locations for disaster victims. Fully digitized geological maps are now available for the entire country.

13. The General Command for Mapping is the national agency empowered for GPS, GIS and space imagery derivatives on a national scale. Being part of the military, many of these accurate large-scale maps are not made available for public use. Yet, the technical capacity for this branch of the Turkish Armed Forces performed very useful services in the wake of natural disasters in pinpointing ground deformations and strains, scope of affected areas, state of transportation routes, and avalanches.

14. The Scientific and Technical Research Council of Turkey (T=DCBITAK) is charged with the duty of establishing the national research policy, and either funding it or conducting it on their own premises. The Marmara Research Center (MAM) is an important sub-branch for in-house research and policy advice. The Earth Sciences Research Institute where the Marmara Continuous GPS Network has been established records the land deformations around the Sea of Marmara to help interpret this as possible precursory information related to the seismic threat for Istanbul.

15. There are numerous other institutions or governmental bodies where advanced technology products (GPS, GIS, satellite imagery, telecommunications facilities, marine and atmospheric data processing, land use and cadastral maps, forest fire monitoring) are utilized for many different purposes. Among them there are universities (Middle East Technical University, Istanbul Technical University, Ege University, Dokuzeyl=FCl University), metropolitan municipalities (Izmir, Istanbul, Ankara, Adana, Izmit, Bursa, Adapazari, Bolu, Eskishehir), the Atomic Energy Council of Turkey, the Ministries of Environment and Forestry, and a number of private digital geo-data processing companies.

16. Although these organizations have GIS display software and hardware capable of running it, there are difficulties in the underlining databases. Not every agency with an emergency management function has access to the necessary databases. Nor are all databases or systems compatible. All this became very evident in the response to the recent earthquakes.

17. Furthermore, no single national entity exists to put together the information and data generated by these agencies for disaster management. This is probably not a realistic expectation anyway. However, a virtual network is required to link all of these data sources for the most efficient retrieval of vital information at times of need. For this reason, Turkey has been an active partner for Global Disaster Information Network (GDIN) from its inception, and has hosted its Third Conference in April 2000. When GDIN is fully operational, it will link anyone with some stake in disaster mitigation regardless of data format.

Conclusions and recent developments

In sum, the current weaknesses of the disaster management system in Turkey with regard to the utilization of technology can basically be attributed to three causes:

  • Institutional fragmentation of information and responsibilities and no single coordinating authority
  • Lack of technologically up-to-date and secure communications and data networks for emergency management, supporting the entire of Turkey
  • Absence of an information system with adequate coverage and processing capacity, which is set up and utilized for both prevention (i.e. in forecasting) and response (i.e. loss estimation).
The Government launched in December 1999, with a second round of World Bank loans, a new programme to address these weaknesses. The scope and resources of the so-called MEER (Marmara Earthquake Emergency Recovery) programme, overshadow the earlier TEFER which has now been subsumed into it. Accordingly, and in response to the three causes highlighted above, the following actions will be taken in the next three years:
  • A national agency, which will serve not only as the main coordinating body in preparation and in response to disasters but also as the hub of information and the communication and data networks, will be established. (This agency called the Turkey Emergency Management General directorate (TEMAD-) has since been set up. However, institutionalization is still in its preliminary stages.)
  • TEMAD will be equipped with the technological capacities (eg. GIS and Rapid Loss Estimation tools) to enable it to function as such.
  • Communications and data systems will be set up serving to exchange information among emergency management agencies, national and international NGOs and commercial groups that provide aid in the response to disasters, and in disseminating information to the general public. These systems will allow for the transfer of voice, data and video information as necessary. They will be designed to use existing capacities, but with the added capability of withstanding the effects of the various disasters. (The MEER programme will pilot these systems with limited regional coverage. Additional funds will be required for coverage of the entire country)
  • An inventory of existing information, along with agency capabilities will be conducted to better coordinate and distil critical data in times of emergencies.
  • The current seismic array will be increased and updated to allow for better assessments and estimations.
  • At the same time, actions are being taken both at the government level and within the civil society to upgrade search and rescue capabilities, by the utilization of advanced technology for this purpose.
  • Finally, to assist TEMAD in its endeavor, a Disaster Management Training Programme (DMTP) is being formulated. Involving governmental and non-governmental partners, UNDP sponsors and formulate this programme in cooperation with other UN organizations, such as OCHA and WHO. Starting in October 2000, it will assist TEMAD and its national counterparts to enhance existing capacities and, perhaps more significantly, to establish an effective network of coordination mechanisms.
Ankara, 5 July 2000