Turkey earthquake disaster: Lessons Kenya can learn

On  February 6, in the wee hours of the morning, 04:17 TRT, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck South and central Turkey, and north and western Syria.

With it came indescribable tragedy and tens of thousands of deaths. Nine hours later a second earthquake of 7.5 magnitude with the same epicenter hit the region.

Easily topping the ‘disaster of the decade’ six days after the earthquake the death toll hit 33,000 and left millions homeless. Rescue efforts have been hampered by among others, crevices along major roads, extremely low temperatures in the region and low food and water supply.

Closer to home, 33,000 easily surpasses Lamu East’s population according to the 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census giving a clearer picture of the devastation in Turkey and its neighboring country Syria.

In what seems to be a blame game Turkish authorities have launched a crackdown on developers connected to buildings that collapsed during the 7.8 magnitude earthquake.

Can’t help but question if in the middle of all its troubles how a country like Kenya would respond to a calamity like an earthquake.

In the last six months alone several houses have collapsed in the Nairobi and Kiambu region leaving at least 10 dead. Rescue efforts in these cases were marred by a lot of delay, confusion and anger. Anger owing to the man-made greed and corruption that led to the buildings collapsing in the first place.

On September 26, 2022, five people were confirmed dead after a seven-story building collapsed in Kirigiti.

On November 17, 2022, a couple died when a building crushed their residential home at around 5 a.m in their sleep in the Kasarani area.

Though Kenya rarely experiences natural phenomena of that magnitude of seismic activity like earthquakes, earth tremors and hurricanes so many structures collapse owing to greed and poor workmanship.

According to the Commanding Officer DRB (Disaster Response Battalion) – KDF, Lt. col. Elon Were, in a year, they receive an average of 10 buildings collapsing especially in the urban setting; attributing this to human factors.

In 2007, the DRB (Disaster Response Battalion) unit, based in the Embakasi garrison, was formed to respond to emergencies such as collapsed houses and natural phenomenon.

In addition, the government has established the National Disaster Operations Centre (NDOC), which is responsible for coordinating disaster response efforts.

In Turkey, the government has put out 113 arrest warrants connected to building construction as a result of buildings that collapsed from Monday’s earthquake.

That is no different closer home, owners and contractors of collapsed buildings have been arrested and interdicted due to negligence of their duties and that seemingly ends there, yet lives were lost.

After the 1999 earthquake in Turkey killling 17,000 people the government introduced the earthquake tax. Having collected an estimate of $3bn (£2.5bn) since the 1999 disaster.

As we’ve seen with the ravaging drought, the Kenyan government sets up paybill numbers with the aim of raising funds to aid the affected. A display of our unpreparedness in time of need.

Disaster response is a complex and challenging process that requires coordination, resources, and effective communication; not Kenya’s greatest stronghold. More evidently, those in authority should cling to the prevention of such calamities as their response leaves more to be desired.

But the question remains on Kenya’s ability to mitigate and coordinate disaster response efforts swiftly; a race against time and life.

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