By Guest Writer Ayush Singh and Yuvraj Mathur

The earthquake that rocked Turkey in 2020 not only caused widespread catastrophe and loss of life but also resulted in a severe human rights crisis. Beyond the fundamental right to life, the disaster infringed upon other fundamental rights, including the right to privacy, a healthy environment, property, education, and housing. Inopportunely, the Turkish government’s response to the earthquake was inadequate, exacerbating the suffering of vulnerable populations and leaving them exposed to the rudiments. This article explores how the earthquake in Turkey turned from a natural disaster into a humanitarian crisis and sheds light on the Turkish government’s derelictions in managing the repercussion of the disaster. 

The earthquake laid bare a severe deficiency in the enforcement of building regulations in the country. The 6.6 magnitude earthquake wreaked havoc in the western Turkish province of Izmir, causing significant damage to infrastructure and resulting in a considerable loss of life. The aftermath of the disaster exposed the perils of substandard building practices and the urgent need for strict enforcement of safety standards to minimize the impact of natural disasters. The issue of non-compliance regarding building regulations in Turkey is not new, and the lack of enforcement is often attributed to corruption and weak institutional capacity. This deficiency endangers the most vulnerable sections of society and highlights the urgent need for the Turkish government to take decisive action. There is an urgent need to address the problem of non-compliance with building regulations and safeguard citizens’ right to a safe and secure environment. 

 The State and Corporate Responsibility 

While discussing the violation of human rights that has occurred, the inevitable failure of state machinery stands at the forefront. States have a responsibility to protect human lives by virtue of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, however, the present case is a visual representation of the incapability of the state to abide by the tenets of said International Law.

Amidst the chaos in Turkey, the limelight was directed toward poorly built government-approved structures than the earthquake itself. States with a history of natural disasters are often equipped with adequate disaster management mechanisms, however, the same cannot be said about Turkey, which has been unable to implement any such functioning mechanisms, further causing the hue for global regulations concerning resilient infrastructure. In recent years, various seismically active states, like Japan, have avoided catastrophic consequences and saved millions of lives by implementing certain state regulations. The Radio law, Building Standards Act, and Disaster Countermeasures Basic Act have not only laid down provisions regarding warranty against defects, and extra regulations applied to braces, foundations, and beams of the structure but also successfully administered disaster redressal mechanisms.  

Weakness of enforcement mechanism 

One of the major contributing factors was the practice of granting construction amnesties, which allowed buildings to be erected without meeting safety standards or obtaining necessary permits for the payment of a fee. The government’s leniency towards such illegal construction activities, coupled with rampant corruption and weak institutional capacity resulted in the unchecked proliferation of substandard buildings- leaving the most vulnerable populations at risk. Despite the devastating consequences of past earthquakes and warnings from experts, the government has continued to grant amnesty to illegal buildings, perpetuating a culture of non-compliance and impunity. As a result, the safety of millions of people is compromised, and the right to a safe and secure environment is systematically violated. 

To prevent such tragedies from recurring, the Turkish government must address the root causes of the problem and enforce strict regulations to ensure compliance with safety standards. The practice of construction amnesty must come to an end, and the government must take a proactive approach towards identifying and penalising those responsible for violating building regulations. Only through these measures primarily focussing upon disaster management and prevention, can we hope to ensure the safety and well-being of all citizens and uphold their fundamental right to a safe and secure environment. 

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