Istanbul Case study

Disability inclusive DRR: tools and methods as main objective of the Istanbul case study

Turkey needs a comprehensive approach to disability and disasters, which would not only include the preparation and response phases but also the recovery phase, covering long-term impacts on victims, not to mention the need to address “normal-time” issues like the socio-economic conditions that generate most of the vulnerability. Such a macro-policy objective is not only beyond AKUT’s capacity (even beyond all similar NGOs’ capacity combined) but also out of EDUCEN’s scope. Istanbul CS addresses only a carefully selected section of a complex problem, in accordance with AKUT’s existing capacity, and capability within EDUCEN timeframe. AKUT will take use of one of its most valuable assets, that is, public disaster preparedness experience; the other being search and rescue capacity.

Istanbul CS’s objective is twofold. The first may be considered as “local”, since it consists of contributing to the reduction of Istanbul’s disabled community’s vulnerability to disasters in a sustainable manner. The second objective is “universal” and potentially more significant: to obtain a transferable pilot model or methodology from the Istanbul experience that can be used in other contexts for addressing the same or similar problems.

The core idea here is to empower disabled volunteers with AKUT’s disaster knowledge and assist them in empowering other members of the disabled community with the same knowledge. Yet, the “transfer” here is by no means unidirectional: Admitting that disability itself is a “knowledge”, disabled participants are required to work to adapt the existing disaster preparedness curriculum, even designing new programs from scratch if necessary, by bringing their own life experience and practical information to the table. This collaborative working scheme will ensure the active participation of disabled individuals to the action and foster mutual learning between disabled and non-disabled disaster volunteers. A series of parallel activities are also planned to further increase exchanges between disabled volunteers and members of Istanbul’s “disaster community”, whom we expect to facilitate to gain a new perspective on disability.

Introduction to Istanbul and disability inclusive DRR

The study will be conducted within the jurisdiction of Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. Istanbul is the largest city in Europe hosting a population of around 14 million inhabitants, ranking 5th overall in the world. It may be considered as the cultural and economic centre of Turkey. One peculiarity is its character of trans-continental city, occupying both shores of the Bosphorus strait which geographically imply the existence of a European side and an Asian side. Istanbul has undergone a significant change in parallel to Turkey’s socio-economic transformation. Like other Turkish urban centres, it has registered very high rates of immigration after the 1960s and plans to impose control and technical criteria to new urban developments have had limited success. The city is still one of the fastest growing ones in the world, on its way to become a mega-polis, with all the associated practical problems that result from this chaotic over-expansion grow steadily. The management of disaster risks is certainly one that rank high in priority among all these issues.

Istanbul has been disaster prone throughout its history. Historical records show that seismicity is without doubt the most important hazard. Notably, after a century of no activity, destructive earthquakes in 1999 reminded Istanbul’s dwellers that the risk would remain high in the future. However, other risks such as floods (increased further by human impact on the natural hydrological systems) and landslides should also not be underestimated. In addition to those “natural” hazards, the city is under constant threat from high-risk industrial facilities that are surrounded by residential areas and by the transportation of hazardous material through overcrowded land routes and the Bosphorus strait. Gigantic traffic congestion (usually combined with severe weather) are also increasingly common. Other scenarios can also be mentioned, like a large-scale health or food emergency, of which the potential consequences remained largely undiscussed so far.

As for the physical assets in Istanbul, their vulnerability to disasters is long recognized. A specific problem is that, despite the so-called “transformation of the urban zones under disaster risk”, action taken by the government (2005), a very large portion of the building stock remains highly vulnerable to earthquakes. This is alarming for a city that almost straddles one of the most active fault lines in the globe, which is expected to generate an M 7.0 or greater earthquake in the next decades. However, real-estate development and trade play a key role in Turkey’s developing economy, which result in high degrees of opposition to any tentative strict regulation in terms of land management and urbanization. This can be made worse by the potential for clientelistic schemes based on the manipulation of land and property as speculative- income sources, undermining risk mitigation and prevention efforts as well. Major earthquakes in the past in Turkey have often exposed corrupt practices and deliberate negligence in building codes encouraged by political clientelism. The predicted “Istanbul Earthquake” would probably not be an exception in this sense.

The link between clientelism and vulnerability -in the Turkish case- is indeed a revealing example of how social, economic and political conditions determine vulnerabilities in society. Some of these determinants have only however recently become part of the discussion since a technical-engineering perspective has so far dominated the mainstream discourse on disasters. It is now generally accepted that the differences in socio-economic conditions translate in different levels of vulnerability. But other inherent characteristics may also have significant impact on the vulnerability of a group. Age and gender are such two attributes, yet we believe that there is one characteristic that is more transcendent than any other: disability. Independently from their gender, age, income level or social status, disabled individuals constitute probably a group that endures the utmost hardship following a disaster. The social structure of Istanbul is characterised by highly different population segments and social groups, encompassing a wide cultural variety and very dissimilar life styles that co-exist (but increasingly get distanced from each other, mainly as a result of a growing inequality).
Still, these differences tend to fade when disaster strikes.

Disabled people have special needs that are often neglected or classified under those pertaining to a broad category of “disadvantaged groups”, when emergency management plans are prepared. Moreover, the resources dedicated to the “disadvantaged” are usually disproportionally low for fulfilling those individuals’ needs and demands. Concerning Istanbul, some limited action has been taken since 1999 which is far from having overcome these shortfalls. Besides, not all citizens (disabled or non-disabled) will receive assistance following a disaster if we still consider disasters as singular moments where the existing capacity of both public and private services has been surpassed by demand. Consequently, additional action is needed to include the disabled in disaster preparedness processes and to increase their autonomy (and resilience) vis-à-vis catastrophes. Taking these needs into account, EDUCEN’s Istanbul Case Study aims to reduce this specific group of urban citizens’ vulnerability to disasters through a social action that could be replicated in other similar contexts.

Like any country across the globe, the disabled constitute a significantly large “minority” in Turkey, especially if we take into account individuals with chronic diseases. Although the latest available data (12 % of the general population) is from 2002, we have no reason to consider that this figure has decreased. The global estimated average, in a recent figure given by the World Health Organization, supports this proportion: 15 %. Again, according to the 2002 data, people with auditory, speech and visual impairments, orthopaedic and mental disabilities constitute 2.58 % of the general population in Turkey. Consequently, we can assume that Istanbul is home to a “core” disabled group of about 400.000 individuals considering also the increase in population since the last survey. As for the remaining 9.42 % (roughly 1.3 million people), this group is mainly composed of citizens with chronic health problems. Even though citizens with chronic conditions (if not coupled with a certain form of disability) often experience less limitations in life and possess a greater autonomy, this chronic group should be the subject of specific measures since they usually also have special needs to be addressed during and after a catastrophe.


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