Turkey and Syria

The recent earthquakes in Turkey and Syria have shocked us all.  As the death toll continues to climb we can all see the horrific images but feel powerless to do very much.

Where our clients are involved we are liaising closely with our assistance providers to support people on the ground and if journalists or charities need to be on site then, of course, we are able to offer the cover they need so that they can be there and provide the humanitarian relief so urgently needed.

But the massive scale of the tragedy leaves us all lost for words.  The weather in that part of the world is cold and extremely difficult.  People sleeping outdoors need our support.  It is hard not to already imagine that the impact of disease, exposure and lack of nutrition will see the death toll rise considerably.  But how can we help?

Sadly, once again the impact of a natural catastrophe has been compounded by poor enforcement of legislation and a lack of transparency in the process.  These failings seem endemic in planning and construction: necessary safeguards are not properly implemented, and many buildings have crumbled when they should have withstood the quake.  Moreover, the bureaucratically driven “tender” process for so many construction projects, leaves smaller businesses out in the cold while prioritising larger organisation that are well known at a government level and can reply to these sorts of requests.  Governments believe that by dealing with a major supplier they are keeping a grip on the project but that is clearly not the case.  The system of sub-contractors and extended supply chains creates an illusion of accountability and control while distancing the real on-the ground decision making from the budgets and decisions being taken at the top.

These failings feel familiar to us in the UK after the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower where shortcomings in building control meant that some of the most vulnerable people were left exposed to huge and unnecessary risks.  Not to mention the PPE procurement issues…

As insurers, I think we need to start speaking up more about what we see.  The safety of people relies on the safety of the built environment: where and how we build.  And as insurers we are in a prime position to ensure that the people doing the checks have appropriate qualifications or experience; that environmental protections, safety concerns and appropriate occupation densities are properly enforced; and encourage processes and procedures that create real transparency and control by supporting human scale, locally driven projects where we can.

Doing the right thing is also good business so we need to be braver in terms of speaking up about risk and not be afraid to challenge businesses that have poor practices, whether that be clients or potential clients, and challenge them earlier in the project.

The earthquakes in Turkey and Syria are a huge tragedy but we now need to play our part in ensuring that when we build back, we really do build back better.

There are several charities supporting the relief efforts, including:

Disasters Emergency Committee

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

British Red Cross