Turkey is a seismically very active country, lying mainly on the Anatolian plate, a small wedge-shaped tectonic plate that is being squeezed westwards as the Arabian plate to the east slams into the Eurasian plate. Let’s have a look at the five largest and most destructive earthquakes in Turkey since 1950:
The largest earthquake in Turkey since 1950 was of a magnitude 7.8 earthquake that occurred on February 6, 2023, in southern and central Turkey as well as northern and western Syria, at 04:17 AM local time. More than 55,700 deaths were confirmed, out of them more than 48,400 in Turkey, and more than 7,200 in Syria, becoming the deadliest earthquake in what is present-day Turkey and making it the deadliest natural disaster in its modern history. Altogether, at least 13,5 million people and 4 million buildings were affected.
Economic losses of Turkey and Syria’s February 6 earthquakes are expected to be around USD$80 billion, equal to about 10 % of Turkey’s GDP, according to Turkish Enterprise and Business Confederation. However, the UN has issued a report with expected losses of around USD$100 billion.
Insured losses from the earthquakes in Turkey alone are likely to be around USD$1bn, with most of the cost falling on global reinsurers, according to Fitch. However, Turkey has mandatory earthquake insurance, where the financial damages to the insured buildings and their foundations are covered by the Turkish Catastrophe Insurance Pool.
The second largest earthquake in Turkey since 1950 was of a magnitude 7.6 and occurred on August 17, 1999, in the city of Izmit, 90km southeast of Istanbul, on the northernmost strand of the North Anatolian fault system, just after 3:00 AM local time.
More than 17,100 people died, more than 50,000 were injured, and up to 500,000 were homeless. The reports state, that the high death toll was mainly because of the poor construction materials1.
The earthquake occurred in the industrialized and most densely populated urban areas of Istanbul, Sakarya, Golcuk, Darica, and Derince. From an economic perspective, the damage was estimated at USD$23 billion. In the industrial areas, the earthquake caused a serious fire, which was taken control only after five days2. It demonstrated gaps in the capacities of disaster response agencies.
The earthquake was part of a sequence along the North Anatolian Fault that started in 1939, causing large earthquakes that moved progressively from east to west over a period of 60 years.
3) The third largest earthquake in Turkey since 1950 occurred on October 23, 2011, near the city of Van. A magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck at 1:41 PM local time. According to the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency, it killed 604 and injured more than 4,000 people. At least 11,232 buildings sustained damage, 6,017 of which were found to be uninhabitable. The uninhabitable homes left as many as 8,321 households with an average household population of around 7.6 homeless in the province; this could mean that at least around 60,000 people were left homeless. The other 5,215 have been damaged but are habitable3.
The total economic loss was about 1 billion Turkish Lira (TL) to 4 billion TL (approx. USD$555 million – USD$2.2 billion). This represents around 17 to 66% of the provincial GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of Van3.
4) The fourth largest earthquake in Turkey in recent years was of a magnitude 7.0 and occurred on October 30, 2020, about 14 km northeast of the Greek island of Samos. Although Samos was closest to the epicenter, it was the Turkish city İzmir, 70 km northeast which was most affected — more than 100 people died while over 1,000 were injured. Hundreds of people have been left homeless and face prolonged displacement over the coming winter months as their homes and buildings have been damaged by the initial earthquake or the subsequent aftershocks4.
Picture 3: Consequences of the 2020 earthquake
5) The fifth largest earthquake in Turkey from 1950 was of a magnitude 6.9 and occurred in the eastern city of Turkey, Bingol on May 22, 1971. The city got hit by the earthquake at 18:44 PM local time and it nearly got completely destroyed – more than 90 % of the buildings were destroyed leaving much of the population homeless and almost 1,000 people dead2. The total economic loss was around USD$5 million5.
What lies ahead?
Due to its location, Turkey is prone to moderate to strong earthquakes. According to a team of engineers and scientists, a major earthquake is likely to strike Istanbul over the next 30 years, killing thousands of people and collapsing as many as 50,000 buildings because of vulnerable construction, they, therefore, recommend immediate action to protect the city.
1) Prevention Web. Turkey: Izmit Earthquake 1999. Accessed on 05-Sep-2022. Available at: https://www.preventionweb.net/collections/turkey-izmit-earthquake-1999
2) TRT World. 2020. Major Earthquakes to Hit Turkey in Recent Decades. Accessed on 05-Sep-2022. Available at: https://www.trtworld.com/magazine/major-earthquakes-to-hit-turkey-in-recent-decades-41043
3) Güney, D. 2012. Van Earthquakes (23 October 2011 and 9 November 2011) and Performace of MAsonry and Adobe Structures. Accessed on 05-Sep-2022. Available at: https://nhess.copernicus.org/articles/12/3337/2012/nhess-12-3337-2012.pdf
4) Relief Web. 2020. Izmir Earthquake Rapid Assessment Report November 2020. Accessed on 05-Sep-2022. Available at: https://reliefweb.int/report/turkey/izmir-earthquake-rapid-assessment-report-november-2020
5) National Geophysical Data Center. Significant Earthquake Database, National Geophysical Data Center. Accessed on 05-Sep-2022. Available at: https://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/hazel/view/hazards/earthquake/event-more-info/6800 doi:10.7289/V5TD9V7K