Interview: Ahmet Haluk Karabel
Urbanisation is a global challenge. What is, in your view, the best way to address this issue in Turkey?
AHMET HALUK KARABEL: Since the 1950s, the world’s urban population has swelled from one-third to two-thirds of its total inhabitants. By 2050 it is expected that approximately 6bn people will reside in cities. Turkey has been a clear example of this trend. Urbanisation here has been rapid and unplanned. TOKİ, within the scope of its planned urbanisation and housing production, has cooperated with local municipal governments since 2003, following a comprehensive policy of transforming slum areas into modern residences. These 184 projects envision the construction of 257,987 houses, of which 45,024 have been completed.
How will the $400bn renewal plan prepare Istanbul’s structures for a possible earthquake?
KARABEL: All TOKİ projects are undertaken with prior consideration to not only the risks of earthquakes, but also the threat of other disasters. The risks posed by natural disasters affect our selection of sites, planning and construction, all of which is done in compliance with zoning and construction legislation. Construction is strictly supervised. Auditing mechanisms ensure due diligence in planning, the signing of contracts and project implementation. Through the use of geological surveys in planning, and ribbed steel during construction, we have made structures with enhanced strength and resistance to even complex earthquake risks, like liquefaction. Our work continues in compliance with the Law on Transformation of the Areas under Disaster Risk. The law proposes approximately $400bn worth of projects, stipulating that reliable and habitable areas be redeveloped or renovated to ensure safety.
How do government agencies utilise financing and project partnerships to involve the private sector?
KARABEL: Over the past nine years, as of May 2012, TOKİ has produced more than 542,000 housing units, an amount equivalent to 21 new cities with populations numbering over 100,000 each. These projects were completed without drawing any funds from the Turkish Treasury. TOKİ has a legal mandate to zone Treasury lands, and we implement projects in cooperation with the private sector – selling the homes we construct with loan structures that are favourable to low- and middle-income families. To assist in the financing of these social housing projects, TOKİ utilises a revenue-sharing model for particularly high-value land in metropolitan areas. This model ensures social projects are financed without the use of public funds, and construction is done by private sector entrepreneurs.
How are TOK İ’s international operations related to the country’s foreign policy?
KARABEL: The housing supply methods we have developed have become prominent on an international scale.
We have experience in building in disaster-prone areas, so we are able to assist other nations affected by natural disasters, using donations from the Turkish public.
For example, following the earthquake and tsunami in 2005, TOKİ built 1050 new homes in Indonesia and 500 houses in the Matara region of Sri Lanka, all financed by Turkish donors. Following the recent earthquake in the Mozafferabad region of Pakistan, TOKİhelped restore the city centre and rebuild government buildings. In the scope of the flood response in those areas, TOKİ provided 4620 disaster relief homes and social facilities.
Our efforts are not only motivated by donors seeking to respond to the needs of disaster victims. For example, following our prime minister’s delegation to Somalia in August 2011 – which was aimed at raising awareness of the challenges that country faces – TOKİ began efforts to construct civil facilities, like a 200-bed hospital, a 40-classroom nursing college and a mosque.
At this time, TOKİ has received requests from nearly 60 countries around the globe, and we are in ongoing negotiations with these governments over how best to utilise our experience and know-how in housing construction to help fulfil their construction needs.
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