Prevention is a ‘no-brainer’: top UN disaster risk reduction official on Türkiye-Syria quakes
This month’s earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria have been called a “once-in-a-generation” disaster – one so devastating that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said it wasn’t possible to be prepared for them. Is that really true?
The New Humanitarian sat down with Mami Mizutori, the special representative of the UN secretary-general for disaster risk reduction, to hear her take on planning for the catastrophic, and what we can learn from what happened in Türkiye and Syria.
But in the aftermath of the latest earthquakes, some are questioning if prior claims of preparedness were a facade, as shaky perhaps as the buildings themselves. Building contractors in Türkiye have been issued arrest warrants, and anger is rising over what critics say is the mismanagement of prevention and relief measures, including an earthquake tax citizens have been paying for 20 years.
The New Humanitarian: Türkiye has long been touted as a risk reduction leader, and has a national earthquake strategy and action plan in place. Government preparations were supposedly quite robust. Given this, what were your initial reactions when you saw the scale of destruction?
Mami Mizutori: Türkiye is a very committed member state on the disaster risk reduction agenda. You mentioned the national earthquake strategy action plan, but there’s also the disaster risk reduction plan, and, of course, the disaster emergency management authority, AFAD. We first need to recognise this, because it's not like the country has not been focusing on prevention.
The New Humanitarian: Since the earthquake, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said that it’s “not possible to be prepared for such a disaster”. What do you make of that statement?
Mizutori: It really depends on what level you're talking about. But definitely you can be prepared better. What I hope we all know by now is that disasters are not just about a hazard [like a fault line] that can be mitigated. It's a combination of the hazard and exposure and vulnerability.