The earthquake that recently struck Turkey and Syria has generated an estimated 210 million tons of debris in the affected areas, posing a major challenge to recovery and rebuilding efforts. The health risks of post-disaster debris can be significant, with the potential for contamination of water and soil, alteration of river flows, and a negative impact on human, plant and animal life. Research indicates that planning is key to mitigating these risks, and plans must involve a range of organizations and experts, from civil and environmental engineers to public health and logistics specialists. The creation of disposal sites, recycling facilities and guidelines for residents, contractors and local authorities are important steps in ensuring safe debris management.
Following any disaster, the immediate priority is clearance, to allow for evacuation, rescue and delivery of supplies, while the collection and disposal of debris can take months or years. The decision-making process for debris management is complex and has long-term consequences, taking into account aspects such as sorting and separation, recycling, landfilling and incineration. Decisions about whether to sort and separate debris in advance can impact the speed and cost of recovery efforts and the eventual destination of the debris. Choices about where to dispose of debris can also have a major impact on social and environmental factors. In the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, Rivière Grise became a dumping ground for construction debris, and this decision was met with resistance and protests from local residents.
In Turkey, concerns have been raised about the potential damage caused by the disposal of construction waste containing harmful chemicals and equipment ranging from household appliances to electronics. Debris management plans have been put in place, but there are concerns that the execution of these plans will be challenging and effective engagement with the Turkish public and input from NGOs and stakeholders are needed to ensure the responsible disposal of debris. Collaborative planning between local and national authorities, NGOs, funding agencies, and other organizations is necessary to improve efficiency, effectiveness and the management of debris. Technology can also be used to improve efficiency, with tools such as Hazus and the EPA Disaster Debris Recovery Tool providing data and risk analysis to help inform planning decisions.
The earthquake has caused significant damage to ancient cities, with millennia-old relics lost to the rubble. The clean-up and responsible management of debris is now vital to ensuring that the impact of the disaster is not compounded by negative health and environmental outcomes, threatening future generations. The enormous challenge of debris management requires a collaborative, multi-organizational approach, with careful planning, technology and data driven-decisions, and oversight ensuring that the debris is disposed of safely and efficiently.