Doc. 8601

21 December 1999

Economic consequences of the recent earthquakes in Turkey and Greece1


Committee on the Environment, Regional Planning and Local Authorities

Rapporteur: Mr Jean Briane, France, Group of the European People's Party

1.       Introduction

1.1       Turkey and Greece are situated in a very "active" seismic zone owing to complex movements between several tectonic plates. Earthquakes on the North Anatolian fault are caused by the northward motion of the Arabian plate against the Eurasian plate, squeezing the small Turkish microplate westwards. Compression in this region is also due to the northward motion of the African plate, which produces subduction at the Cyprus and Hellenic arcs.

1.2       Consequently, the North Anatolian fault has produced seven large earthquakes with a magnitude greater than 7.0 on the Richter scale in the period from 1939 to 1999. These earthquakes have ruptured the fault progressively from east to west. The Izmit earthquake of 17th August 1999 broke a 130 km long section of the North Anatolian fault. Soon after, two subsequent earthquakes hit the region, first in the area north of Athens in September 1999 (5.7 magnitude) and again recently in northwestern Turkey in November 1999 causing further damage in those areas.

1.3       According to seismologists the probability for large earthquakes in the region remains quite high due to levels of stress between the tectonic plates. The Istanbul area deserves particular attention as it is a densely populated urban area with around 12 million inhabitants, half of the population living in illegally constructed housing without compliance with seismic building standards.

2.       Consequences on the environment

2.1       The recent earthquakes in Turkey and Greece occurred in densely populated areas of Izmit and greater Athens and as a result caused considerable human catastrophe, significant damage to local economies and damage to the natural environment.

2.2       However, the following data focuses predominantly on Turkey owing to the magnitude and nature of the initial earthquake, causing serious damage to infrastructure and hazardous industrial installations in this area, which badly affected the natural environment. In comparison, the earthquake occurring in the north of Athens was of a moderate magnitude causing predominantly damage to housing and small enterprise located within 12 km of the epicentre at Mount Parnitha.

2.3       The Turkish and Greek authorities respectively undertook initial damage assessment studies in co-operation with UN Office for co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), UN Environment Programme (UNEP), UN Development Programme (UNDP) and various international experts. Although this process is still ongoing but as yet incomplete, the initial findings presented by your Rapporteur give a general overview of the extent of immediate and possible long-term damage to the environment, and can help identify assistance needs for actions of monitoring and environmental clean-up.

2.4       Generally, the most acute environmental problems associated with the recent earthquakes are water pollution, marine oil pollution and potential consequences of air and soil pollution. Further detailed studies are envisaged in order to address possible long-term consequences and related rehabilitation.

      Marine pollution

2.5       Marine environment was affected as a result of significant release of polluting substances from industrial installations, uncontrolled leakage from damaged water infrastructure and initial disposal of rubble in the sea.

2.6       The Izmit Bay, especially the area between Izmit, Golcuk and Yalova, was seriously polluted by oil, oil products and fuel. Most of the pollution originated from the Izmit refinery as a result of the earthquake and fire fighting operations. Additional pollution may have come from different sources between Golcuk and Yalova, resulting from the collapse of the seashore in this area. Pollution from “traditional” land-based sources was also not excluded.

2.7       The Bay had been heavily polluted in the past. However, with much effort, the situation has improved during the last 5-7 years. Therefore, at the time of the earthquake, marine ecosystems of the Bay were still very sensitive. For this reason, the current pollution causes a lot of damage. Reportedly, some oil has already reached the Marmara Sea. Certain clean up operations are being carried out, with limited resources.

2.8       A matter of strong concern is the fact that in many locations in Turkey, an active dumping of rubble from the destroyed human settlements into the sea took place, which led to further pollution and long-term consequences for marine ecosystems. Dumping of rubble into the sea aggravated the problem of oil pollution, as waste covered sunken oil, which would remain trapped for a long time. To this respect, the Turkish Government prepared a list of actions to minimise the flow of demolition waste, originating from the earthquake, from reaching the sea and riverbeds. The Rapporteur underlines the urgent need for international assistance to clean up the Izmit Bay. Scientists from the Istanbul University, Institute of Marine Sciences, have been working to assess levels of pollution in the Bay. However, due to the size of the affected area it is difficult to provide regular monitoring. In addition, satellite images of the Izmit Bay would facilitate the work of specialists involved in the assessment and clean up operations.

2.9       According to the damage assessment study2 in Greece, no major marine pollution was reported to date. Water and energy utilities suffered only minor damages mainly in the area close to the epicentre north of Athens.

      Damage to industrial installations

2.10       The three earthquakes in Turkey and Greece hit two densely populated urban centres with significant economic and industrial activity. While the initial earthquake in Turkey severely damaged two major petrochemical and chemical plants, Greece mainly suffered damage of small and medium enterprise located north of Athens as industrial and hazardous installations are mostly located in the port of Piraeus much further south from the epicentre.

2.11       Apart from the Tupras Oil Refinery and the AKSA Chemical Plant, there is no information on other important hazardous installations damaged in Turkey. However, it is not excluded that some other affected industrial sites, including warehouses and storage facilities, may be identified at a later stage.

2.12       The Tupras Oil Refinery is situated on the outskirts of the town of Izmit, approximately 125 km South of Istanbul, in a flat area on the bank of the Izmit Bay, which forms a part of the Marmara Sea. The refinery accounts for 85% of Turkey's domestic oil consumption.

2.13       On 17 August 1999, the earthquake caused 3 simultaneous fires at the refinery in different locations. The fire continued for five consecutive days. According to the management of the refinery, the total amount of oil products burnt (mostly naphtha) was about 30,000 tones. In addition, contents of the damaged tanks (such as crude oil, gasoline, etc.) were completely exposed to the atmosphere causing evaporation of Volatile organic compounds (VOC), source of serious air pollution.

2.14       The AKSA Chemical Plant produced artificial fibres. It is located on the seashore between Yalova and Topgular, approximately 25 nautic miles from Izmit. The plant was damaged by the earthquake and as a result, about 4,700 MT of acrilonitril escaped, which burned vegetation and killed animals in nearby area.

      Water, air and soil contamination

2.15       Water, air and soil contamination are more alarming in Turkey as a result of considerable damage to municipal drinking and waste-water infrastructure and substantial release of chemical and toxic substances from major industrial plants.

2.16       There has been no significant water, air or soil pollution in the greater Athens area, according to the damage assessment study.

2.17       On the other hand, municipal water and sewage system in the Izmit area has been damaged to varying degrees. The extent of the damage has not yet been assessed but it is expected to be extensive. Sewage pipes as far as 30 km from the worst affected areas, where no visible structural damage to buildings is seen, have been damaged due to the estimated 8 metre horizontal displacement of the ground during the seism.

2.18       Possible leakage from wastewater system to drinking water supply system and sources of drinking water represented a serious threat of epidemics of infectious diseases for the affected population.

2.19       Municipalities have therefore cut off water supply to the entire affected area as a precaution. Limited drinking water and sanitation facilities are being provided until permanent services are restored.

2.20       The fire at the Tupras Oil Refinery, which burned approximately 30,000 tones of oil products, led to the release of combustion products and pollutants into the atmosphere. Emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide have not been monitored but can be derived from the contents of the fuel burned.

2.21       The buoyancy of the warm combustion gases and the air currents caused a strong plume-rise effect carrying the airborne pollutants further away from the fire zone.

2.22       The airborne contamination is eventually settling into the surrounding soil and fresh water reservoirs. Soil pollution may further lead to contamination of agricultural products (including green vegetables), thus presenting a serious threat to human health.

2.23       In addition, due to lack of resources and monitoring material, there has been no systematic monitoring of water, air and soil pollution in a wider area surrounding Izmit.

2.24       Given the serious threats to public health, the Rapporteur underlines the need to urgently reconstruct drinking water and waste-water infrastructure in the Izmit area and to introduce regular monitoring of water, air and soil pollution in all areas affected by the recent earthquakes.

3.       Action for remedy

3.1       According to the OCHA report, the Turkish authorities would welcome the urgent international co-operation in the following areas:

- monitoring water quality, clean up of drinking water sources and reconstruction of drinking and waste-water infrastructure

- clean up operations in the Izmit Bay, and prevention of any further accidents at the Tupras Oil Refinery

- monitoring the amount of oil and oil products which leaked into the Marmara Sea, concentrations and amounts of emissions of toxic chemicals, toxic gases and air pollutants and their effects

- sampling and analysis of soil to determine levels of soil pollution

3.2       Furthermore, the Rapporteur considers it crucial to undertake as soon as possible studies on long-term environmental consequences of recent earthquakes in Turkey and Greece in order to set an adequate basis for preventive and remedying action.

4       Conclusions

4.1       The Rapporteur strongly supports paragraph 5 of the draft Recommendation stating that much loss of life, physical and environmental damage could have been avoided had existing, stricter construction standards been more fully respected and enforced.

4.2       Over the past decades, migration from rural areas to cities considerably raised housing demand both in Turkey and Greece. Istanbul and Athens are both suffering from the effects of uncontrolled urban sprawl and some smaller cities in Turkey have even tripled their population during recent years. According to the Turkish Chamber of Commerce estimates, 65 % of all buildings in Turkey were constructed without a permit or without regard to building codes.

4.3       Furthermore, in areas of high seismic "activity" such as Turkey and Greece, the notions of seismic risk prevention should be fully integrated in the process of land use planning. Location of human settlements, infrastructure and hazardous industrial installations should be subject to strict seismic-related criteria in order to minimise the population directly exposed to risks and to reinforce the security of those who remain living within the zones of high risk.

4.4 In the light of the above, the Rapporteur questions the soundness of recent political decisions in Turkey regarding the commissioning of a first nuclear plant to be built at Akkuyu Bay, in the Mediterranean. Turkey is one of the most earthquake prone regions in the world and geological surveys indicate that the Akkuyu Bay site is seismically very active and so incurring a serious risk of a nuclear catastrophe threatening lives of millions of people in Turkey, Cyprus, Greece and other countries in the region. Any political decisions regarding the bid and the location of a nuclear plant in Turkey ought to be considered above all in the light of risk prevention and population safety.

5.        Proposals for amendments

The Rapporteur proposes following amendments to the draft Recommendation presented by the Committee on Economic Affairs:

Amendment 1

in paragraph 2, after "railways and roads" insert the wording "and environmental clean up of water, marine and soil pollution caused by the recent earthquakes".

Amendment 2

in paragraph 5, after "as well as physical", insert the wording "and environmental".

Amendment 3

after paragraph 5, insert a new paragraph as follows:

"In particular, it emphasises the need to develop in areas of high seismic activity, such as Turkey and Greece, regional planning and urban development policies, as well as construction techniques which would minimise damages from possible earthquakes in the future”.

Reporting committee: Committee on Economic Affairs and Development (Doc. 8594).

Committee for opinion: Committee on the Environment, Regional Planning and Local Authorities

Reference to committee: Doc. 8494, Reference No. 2431 of 20 September 1999 and Doc. 8562, Reference No. 2450 of 4 November 1999.

Opinion approved by the committee on 15 December 1999

1 see Doc. 8594.

2 EERI special earthquake report, Laboratory for Earthquake Engineering of the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA), November 1999