Vanished kids and rampant corruption: Horrors behind Turkey’s earthquake linger

More than 3 million people were displaced by the earthquake. Hundreds of thousands of them still live in container houses or tents in arduous conditions. And thousands of others weren’t even given tents, being left to rely on friends or relatives instead.

After the earthquake, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had pledged to rebuild the homes that were destroyed within a year. And before the critical May 2023 elections — which he won — construction was proceeding quickly. Since then, however, the work has slowed, leaving many families in limbo. Jobs are scarce; meeting daily needs, like paying for food, rent and other necessities, is a major challenge; and as the country continues to battle inflation, many are falling deeper into debt.

Seeing one’s hometown turned to rubble, losing family members, or not even being able to find their bodies — these tragedies are simply impossible to recover from. And what’s worse, according to Asya’s father, is that those responsible for our tragedy haven’t paid a price.

After the earthquake, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had pledged to rebuild the homes that were destroyed within a year | Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Hatay, the hometown of Asya’s father, was one of the worst-hit cities. Of the close to 2,000 buildings that collapsed there, half of them didn’t have the necessary building permits. And to quell public anger, cases were filed against private contractors and building inspectors — but they aren’t the ones primarily responsible for the disaster. In Turkey, public officials play a key role in construction projects. Elected mayors and those working for the Ministry of Environment, Urbanisation and Climate Change are the ones responsible for issuing construction permits, inspections for compliance with existing laws and approving building safety for habitation.

But even more than them, the one most responsible for the massive scale of death and destruction is the man who’s been running the country for over two decades.

Erdoğan enriched a small circle of close allies in the construction sector, awarding them infrastructure projects without competitive tenders or proper regulatory oversight. And these companies built homes and infrastructure in earthquake hotspots without following proper building codes.

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