“It is not a question if it will happen, but when it will happen”

Text and photo by Jesse Hattink – 

Earthquakes happen all around the world and can cause a lot of damage.  There is a 70 % probability that an earthquake will hit Istanbul in the next 20 years . How does the municipality prepare for this, and is it even possible to prepare? 

Kandilli observatory in Istanbul monitors earthquakes all over Turkey. to do this they use more than 350 seismic instruments all over Turkey. They measure where the earthquake takes place and the magnitude of it. On average the observatory measures 40 to 50 earthquakes each day. They’re connected to a world wide web of earthquake observatories sharing knowledge and data. 


Professor Erdal Şafak, who works at the Kandilli Observatory in the Kandilli district, has studied the dangers of earthquakes in Istanbul.  When asked if there will be an earthquake in Istanbul soon he starts laughing. “It is not a question if it will happen, but when it will happen”. Professor Şafak explains that “there is a 70 % chance that Istanbul will be struck by an earthquake from at least 7,0 on the Richter scale in the next 20 years”. In comparison the earthquake that hit Turkey’s city of Izmit (just east of Istanbul) in 1999 had a magnitude of 7,4. The consequences were enormous with 17.000 people losing their life and 250.000 people becoming homeless.

Professor Ergun says “this should have been a wake up call, but nothing has been done since. An earthquake hitting Istanbul would be devastating, leading to tremendous economic damage and then I am not even speaking about the loss of life that would follow. It would kill thousands of people in just a couple of minutes and even more in the long term”. 

Now there is a saying in the world of geophysics; ‘Disasters don’t kill but corruption does’. Meaning that if a country is well enough prepared for a disaster it 

will have a different outcome leading to less casualties. As said before this is not the case for Istanbul as there is no disaster infrastructure in place and constructions have not become better. This is the case for one third of the buildings in Istanbul, a city where more than 15 million people live.

Professor Ergun, who also works at the observatory, teaches civil engineering at Bigli University. “The buildings in the city are not prepared or improved  t0

withstand an earthquake. In fact buildings have been demolished but have been rebuilt in the same way from the same materials. The European side of the city is more vulnerable to earthquakes as the ground beneath is softer and will turn into jelly when you put shockwaves through it.”

Ergen continues; ”President Erdogan’s party ‘AK’ has been ignoring the problem, but I think there is some hope. The opposition party in Istanbul ‘CHP’, led by mayor  Ekrem İmamoğlu has been taking the matter more seriously and has been urging the government to also take it more seriously and make it one of its priorities.”

For now, the municipality only focuses on the famous buildings the city has, such as the Hagia Sophia, the palaces and the blue mosque. Ergun says the following about this; “we measure the famous buildings in the city for earthquakes and how much they can withstand. From here we are able to see what type of improvement the buildings need. I’m sorry to say that the population will be the victims of the policy the municipality has had for years. We try to educate the ordinary citizen by giving lectures and reaching out to young people to help them prepare for a disaster, but there are still a lot of steps which need to be taken to make Turkey a safer place.”