Citizens at Risk: Uncertainty, Preparedness and Istanbul Earthquake

By Ebru Kayaalp
Submitted to Session P4992 (Managing and Manufacturing Disaster, 2017 Annual Meeting
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The earthquake of 1999 in Marmara Region of Turkey affected approximately 16 million people, leaving behind thousands of deaths, injuries and material damages. Since then a number of studies on natural disasters are being conducted in Turkey and reached a consensus that another earthquake at the magnitude of 7 will hit Istanbul, causing at least 30 thousands deaths and collapse of over 50 thousand buildings. According to scientific reports, 38 percent of the buildings in Istanbul are considered dangerous and required to be reconstructed.

The already accelerated urban transformation in Istanbul has taken a more radical path with the enactment of new natural disaster policies. This has resulted in a shift from the state’s responsibility for earthquake management to the citizens, who are now left up to their own devices in preparing for the expected natural disaster. At the intersection of the discussions of preparedness, uncertainty and risk, a new official discourse about the citizens has emerged: they have to be responsible, autonomous and entrepreneurial in earthquake management.

Drawing from the ethnographic research conducted with people whose buildings are under danger in Istanbul, this paper will analyze the attempts of citizens’ risk management techniques. It will also discuss how the emerging state/scientific discourse governs the “present” of the society with reference to a disaster that has not happened yet.