Fears of Earthquake Loom Large in Istanbul's Mayoral Race

Istanbul

Melih Ozunal and his neighbours in Goztepe, on Istanbul's Asian shore, are facing a troubling reality regarding the state of their apartment block.

Constructed with corrosive sand dredged from the bottom of the Marmara Sea and with discrepancies in rebar sizes, concerns over its earthquake resilience have escalated. As inspectors examine the building, the spectre of demolition and replacement looms large.

Since a devastating quake claimed over 53,000 lives in southern Turkey last year, anxieties over Istanbul's aging housing infrastructure have intensified. Leading seismologists warn of a high probability of a 7.0-magnitude earthquake striking before 2030, making the city, home to 16 million people, vulnerable. Despite relatively sound infrastructure, the majority of Istanbul's buildings fail to meet safety standards, placing approximately 200,000 structures at risk of collapse, according to Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu.

However, progress in addressing these concerns is impeded by economic challenges and a severe housing crisis. Inflation, soaring construction costs, and escalating property prices have rendered rebuilding efforts financially untenable for many residents. This economic strain is also evident among the 3 million individuals displaced by last year's earthquake, who find themselves unable to afford relocation due to soaring housing costs.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's pledge to swiftly replace destroyed homes has fallen short, with only a fraction of the promised housing units completed. In this climate, earthquake-proofing has become a focal point of Istanbul's mayoral campaign. While Murat Kurum, the ruling party's candidate, vows ambitious housing initiatives, Mayor Imamoglu advocates for more modest solutions, acknowledging the municipality's limited resources.

As Istanbul grapples with the dual challenges of seismic vulnerability and housing shortages, the mayoral election on March 31st carries significant implications for the city's future. Yet, with economic constraints constraining ambitious pledges, the road to securing Istanbul's infrastructure remains fraught with uncertainty.

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