GENEVA (Xinhua/Al Jazeera) – A United Nations Development Program (UNDP) official has estimated that 1.5 million people in Turkey have been left homeless by the recent earthquakes and some 500,000 housing units in the country will have to be rebuilt.
Louisa Vinton, the UNDP’s Turkey resident representative, told an online press briefing that the country’s government had inspected around 70 percent of the buildings affected by the quakes. Of these, 412,000 housing units in 118,000 buildings have collapsed or need to be demolished completely.
She said that the amount of rubble that needed to be cleared was enormous, and that the UNDP was seeking to minimize the threat of hazardous waste.
According to Vinton, two weeks after the first quakes, there is reason to call this the largest natural disaster in Turkey’s history.
She said that the government concluded the search and rescue phase for the first quakes on Sunday, and the last survivor was pulled from the rubble almost 300 hours after the quake.
Catherine Smallwood, senior emergency officer for the World Health Organization (WHO), told the press briefing that managing the risks of communicable diseases is now vital as several displaced people live in close quarters, sometimes with poor access to toilets and clean water.
“There is a heightened risk of respiratory illnesses, cholera, hepatitis A and measles,” she said.
In recent weeks, Turkey’s southern Kahramanmaras province has been rattled by a series of earthquakes ranging from magnitude 6.4 to 7.7.
The quakes also hit parts of Syria. In total, an estimated 47,000 people have lost their lives in the two countries, according to media reports.
At least 160 suspects were remanded in custody across Turkey over the collapse of buildings following the 6 deadly quakes, according to judicial sources on Wednesday, Anadolu News Agency reports.
Turkish prosecutors charged 564 suspects as part of the investigation on collapsed buildings or flouting of construction codes, the sources said.
At least 175 suspects were released under judicial control, which means they will regularly have to report to their nearest police station.
In addition, arrest warrants were issued for 71 suspects and detention orders were issued for 61 others.
While 18 people are still in custody by the order of the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, according to the sources, 11 other suspects have died. Six suspects are abroad, the sources added.
Engineers Count Cost of
Rebuilding in Syria
Engineers have been painstakingly assessing the safety of buildings in northwestern Syria, which was devastated by earthquakes this month after years of conflict and bombardments that had already destroyed homes and hospitals.
Since the first earthquake struck the Turkey-Syria border region on February 6, hundreds of families in Idlib have been sheltering on agricultural land. Their homes were either flattened or so damaged that they were rendered uninhabitable.
The Idlib authorities have said that more than 100 cities, towns and villages in that region alone were affected, with 812 buildings demolished and 5,937 damaged.
The Syrian Engineers Association in Idlib is working with the local administration to check buildings that are still standing after the earthquakes and thousands of powerful aftershocks.
“About 20 buildings [several storeys high] are inspected daily by the engineering committee,” said civil engineer Mustafa Haj Lattouf, who heads one of the structural safety committees in Idlib. They check about 40 houses a day as well.