Turkey Earthquake 2023: Reducing Risks In The Indian Context – Analysis


By Col Ravinder Singh*

Earthquakes are one of the most devastating natural disasters that can strike anytime with little or no warning. On 21 March 2023, an earthquake of magnitude 6.6 occurred in Afghanistan, the tremors of which shook parts of northern India and were felt as far away as Delhi-NCR, Jaipur and Chandigarh. The destructive power of earthquakes leads to damage to infrastructure, displacement of people and loss of life. Since it is impossible to warn the population of an impending earthquake, it is all the more important to have a precise knowledge of the disaster risk in the region, as it is the only way to provide important information to reduce risk to population. 

Disaster risk is determined probabilistically as a function where hazard, exposure and vulnerability are directly proportional (any increase causes an increase in risk) and capacity is inversely proportional (an increase causes a decrease in risk). The magnitude of the earthquake, its proximity to populated places, the kind of terrain, how structures are constructed, the time it strikes, and the response time are some variables that affect the number of casualties and damage to property.

Most earthquake fatalities occur due to structural collapses, and lesser casualties are attributable to non-structural causes and secondary disasters. Besides fatalities, earthquakes cause enormous economic losses, social disruption and psychosocial problems. As nearly 60 per cent of India is vulnerable to moderate to severe earthquakes, it is useful to learn from the experiences of such natural disasters as the February 2023 earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria.

In the 7.8 and 7.5 magnitude earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria in February 2023, the number of people killed surpassed 45,000. At least one earthquake of magnitude 5 occurs every year in Turkey. The earthquake of 1999 led to the establishment of the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) to effectively manage disasters. AFAD had a Strategic Plan 2019–2023 to build disaster-resilient communities. However, reports flagged inadequate implementation of policy that perhaps led to the worst disaster yet in 2023.

The recent 7.8 magnitude earthquake, which affected 16 per cent of Turkey’s population, caused an estimated damage of more than US$ 34 billion in direct property damage, according to a World Bank rapid damage assessment report. This excludes the recovery and reconstruction costs that will undoubtedly be much larger. Rescue and relief efforts were hampered by damaged roads, cold winter and breakdown of communications. An estimated 1,41,000 people from 94 countries participated in the rescue efforts. 

India also contributed to the relief efforts by sending its army medical team, National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) personnel with equipment, dogs and relief materials. The relief supplies included critical medicines, seven C-17 aircraft and a network-independent real-time tracking and messaging module called SANCHAR. The rescue of a six-year-old girl by NDRF and the picture of a Turkish woman kissing an Indian Army medical officer on her cheek has been highlighted in international media, showcasing India’s rescue and relief efforts.

Reducing Risks in the Indian Context

Having experienced numerous earthquakes of magnitude greater than 6, the Himalayan region and the Rann of Katch in India are particularly vulnerable. The earthquakes in Latur (1993), Kashmir (2005) and Bhuj (2001) are grim reminders of the country’s vulnerability to earthquakes. While one can’t prevent natural disasters from happening, an understanding of disaster risk can help mitigate its effects. India must take lessons from the recent Turkey earthquake for future planning to reduce its impact.

Rapid Urbanisation

Economic growth and better job opportunities have led to urban agglomeration and demographic shifts. Rapid urbanisation has led to a boom in population, property and infrastructure. The percentage of people living in cities increased from 25.72 per cent in 1991 to 35.39 per cent in 2021 in India, indicating an increased risk. The colossal damage wrought by the earthquakes in Turkey is revealed in videos of multi-storey buildings collapsing. A report by Turkey’s AFAD states that temporary shelters were supplied for nearly 19 lakh survivors, which is a sign of the extensive damage to residential structures. 

Urbanisation cannot be avoided due to economic factors and social benefits to the populace. However, seismic micro zonation in master plans and land use plans, retrofitting of structures, regularisation of illegal colonies/slums and resettlement of such to areas should form an essential part of earthquake risk mitigation measures in the Indian context.

Implementation of Building Codes

Implementing earthquake-resistant building codes is an effective structural measure to mitigate the risks of an earthquake. The structural damages caused in Turkey indicated poor implementation of building code policies. In most countries, building codes are not implemented due to various reasons, including those related to lack of effective oversight mechanisms, funding, a lack of political will, among other factors. Also, builders/owners either do not know the codes or do not have the resources to comply with them, and in many cases look to cut costs, which directly increases the risks of damage in case of natural disasters like earthquakes. 

The National Building Code of India was first published in 1970 and underwent a second revision in 2005. Two amendments were then released in 2015. The National Building Code of India 2016 represents a significant milestone and reflects modern, globally applicable best practices. The nation-wide application of these codes must be enforced by the team of building officials appointed by the local authority, to ensure that sufficient disaster risk reduction measures are taken.

Dealing with Mass Casualty Events (MCEs)

The emergency medical services and organisations responding to the situation in Turkey were overwhelmed due to the earthquake, which brought forth challenges such as uncertainty, confusion arising from a lack of contingency plans, delay in the establishment of the Incident Command System, the necessity to alter the medical response, breakdown in communication and directing the response to recover from the effects of the disaster in a timely and efficient manner. 

In order to react to disasters, a few states in India have implemented disaster management plans that include both the national and state disaster response forces which are trained and equipped to respond in the event of a disaster. But in order to save priceless lives during the ‘Golden Hour’, an earthquake that hits without any prior notice calls for an effective system. In order to overcome these challenges, the implementation of a Decision Support System, by the District Disaster Management Authority headed by the District Collector, can provide real-time information by mapping the medical facilities available, with details on availability of beds and medicines, location of ambulances, distances and modes of transport, and can save precious lives. 

Natech (Natural Hazard Triggering Technological) Disasters

Natech disasters like the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster of 11 March 2011 are technological disasters triggered by natural disasters, which occur conjointly. Such disasters result in the release of toxic air, hazardous materials, fires and explosions, forcing the response force to abandon rescue operations. After a 7.6-magnitude earthquake in 1999, Turkey witnessed Natech disasters, including a significant fire at a refinery in Korfez and an acrylonitrile spill at a facility that produced fibres. Natech catastrophes are more likely to occur as a result of industrialisation, which results in the storage of dangerous chemicals, flammable materials, gas pipelines and explosive materials. 

The Seveso III directives were adopted by the European Commission in 2012. Annex. I of those directives explicitly recognised Natech risk as a crucial element of a hazardous site and required methods for identifying, analysing, and preventing accidental risks as part of a comprehensive Natech risk management strategy. 

India has in place a ‘National Disaster Management Plan 2019’ which has incorporated a detailed framework for Disaster Resilience to include Industrial disasters, Nuclear and Radiological emergencies and Biological and Public Health emergencies. The inclusion of a risk management strategy to include a comprehensive national policy on prevention, preparedness and mitigation of Natech disasters would assist in ameliorating the effects of Natech disasters.

Public–Private Partnership (PPP) to strengthen Disaster Mitigation

For effective rescue and relief operations, it is essential to build community resilience. This will allow quick response and recovery and make it possible for response teams to use the dispersed resources and focus the effort in a coordinated manner. Analysts have highlighted the lack of specifications or guidelines as regards the PPP model for disaster mitigation in the Turkish context.

The Indian government and private sector institutions should invest in building community resilience by promoting social cohesion, strengthening local institutions, and improving access to healthcare and social services through robust public–private partnerships. As losses from disasters exceed available funds and the nation is economically affected, PPP would provide an alternative source for reconstruction and also for preparedness measures that could help the government scale up projects. The non-participation of communities at the design and planning stage could also lead to ownership issues at a later stage. Tax incentives and compliance with the DRR index can act as a catalyst for active private sector participation.


Earthquakes have both economic and social impacts. The economic impact results in financial losses, while the social impact lasts longer and harms the survivors’ mental health. India can use the lessons learned from the tragic earthquake in Turkey to better prepare for and respond to natural disasters. India must adhere to strict building codes, risk-mitigating innovations and earthquake preparedness. By being proactive and studying other countries’ experiences and best practices, India can better ensure the safety of its residents and reduce disaster risk.

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or of the Government of India.

*About the author: Col Ravinder Singh is an artillery officer with three decades of military service and is presently pursuing his doctorate in Disaster Management from SR University, Warangal

Source: This article was published by Manohar Parrikar IDSA

Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA)

The Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA), is a non-partisan, autonomous body dedicated to objective research and policy relevant studies on all aspects of defence and security. Its mission is to promote national and international security through the generation and dissemination of knowledge on defence and security-related issues. The Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA) was formerly named The Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA).

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