Van Dispatch: View from the City Center
Today was our first chance to get out in the field and really take a look at the earthquake damage and the living conditions in the central part of Van. According to our guides, an estimated 70% of all the buildings in Van are not engineered or built to any sort of code. This undoubtedly contributes to the conditions we witnessed today. Our first stop was a settlement in the “suburb” just outside the city center where most if not all the buildings were constructed by those who lived in them, not professional contractors.
Many of them are collapsed and are unlivable, and all the population resides in tents around the rubble. Even before the earthquake, living conditions were difficult in this area, and now many would find them completely unbearable. In spite of the difficulties, we found the families living there to be in high spirits and extremely hospitable, maintaining as positive an attitude as possible, all things considered.
While the outside conditions are very dirty, we were invited into one of the tents and found it to be immaculate. The children well cared for, and living standards were greater than what one might expect.
In many instances, they are able to get water and electricity in spite of damaged buildings. However these living conditions are not suitable for the harsh winter that is approaching and the municipality is concerned about moving them into a more robust structure.
From the suburb, we were taken to the city center and had a first-hand look at the damage. Many buildings were on the verge of collapse and yet commerce continued as best as possible in spite of the obvious danger.
We were also shown buildings that were supposedly built to the code, but suffered moderate or complete failure to one or both of the earthquakes. Highlighting the fact that enforcement of the building code is a huge challenge in this area.
The municipal government has recently begun to try to enforce the code to a much higher level. Our guide told a story of a developer who was insistent about building a 10 story building when they would only allow him to build a five story building. As a result of their tenacity, the five story building he ultimately constructed survived the earthquakes. He came back and thanked them afterwards.
We were also shown a Distribution Center where the municipality distributes food and services to the surrounding neighborhoods. They operate 9 such centers around the central part of Van where they feed some 30,000 meals a day. The services include a children’s daycare, laundry, medical and shower facilities.
Tomorrow we will visit the most heavily damaged city in the region, Ercis, the epicenter of the 7.1m earthquake.Until then, we leave you with a memorable moment with the
children of Van, Turkey.