Japan funds recycling facilities for earthquake rubble in Türkiye

August 16, 2023
UNDP Türkiye Resident Representative Louisa Vinton and Japanese Ambassador to Republic of Türkiye KATSUMATA Takahiko holding signed project documents with UNDP and Japanese flags on the background.
Photo: Bora Akbay

UNDP will pilot environmentally sound debris processing in hard-hit Hatay and Kahramanmaraş provinces

Ankara, 16 August 2023 – The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Government of Japan today signed a JPY700 million (US$4.83 million) agreement to build state-of-the-art rubble recycling facilities in Hatay and Kahramanmaraş, two of the provinces hardest hit in Türkiye’s devastating February earthquakes. The disaster killed more than 50,700 people and destroyed more than 313,000 buildings, leaving behind a bleak landscape of collapsed concrete slabs and twisted steel. The new facilities – the first of their kind to be established in the earthquake-affected region – will safely remove hazardous wastes such as asbestos from the rubble, separate out scrap metal and other recyclables, and crush cement for reuse as paving and building material.

“Like the human losses, the volume of rubble generated by this horrific disaster defies comprehension,” said UNDP Resident Representative Louisa Vinton. “This is why we are so grateful to be able to draw on Japanese funding, expertise and technology to help our Turkish partners manage the mountains of debris in an ecological fashion.”

“A friend in need is a friend indeed,” said Takahiko Katsumata, Ambassador of Japan to the Republic of Türkiye. “Following the February earthquakes in the southeastern part of Türkiye, Japan has provided various forms of assistance, including search and rescue operations, and plans to continue to do so. I feel that the support and reconstruction efforts for this unprecedented earthquake are making our bilateral relations even stronger.”

“Since the earthquakes the Government has used every means available to restore normal life in the region and heal the wounds of our people as quickly as possible," said Recep Akdeniz, General Director of the Environmental Management Directorate of the Ministry of Environment, Urbanization and Climate Change. “We continue our efforts to provide as much support as possible for the recycling of the debris caused by the unprecedented disaster. This is why we especially thank Japan and UNDP for their support in building two model facilities for recycling that will be done safely and in line with environmental safeguards.”

Earthquake site (year)

Debris (tons)

Türkiye (1999)

13 million

Nepal (2014)

14 million

China (2004)

20 million

Japan (2011)

31 million

Haiti (2010)

23-60 million

Türkiye (2023)

200 million

According to UNDP estimates, the collapse of buildings in the earthquake zone yielded an amount of wreckage that dwarfs almost all previous natural disasters in the world: by weight, more than 200 million tons; and by volume, more than 100 million cubic meters, or enough to cover the entire island of Manhattan – twice – in a meter-high layer of rubble. For comparison, the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan generated in all 31 million tons of rubble.

Experience from previous disasters shows that up to 90 percent of building rubble can be recycled. Japan managed to recycle 81 percent of the debris left after the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami. “The sooner we get started, the better,” said Vinton. “Recycled rubble can serve as a vital raw material for the massive reconstruction effort that lies ahead. And the longer we wait, the greater the risk that debris finds its way to inappropriate locations.”

Since the earthquakes, hundreds of thousands of truckloads of rubble have been moved from destroyed urban centers to temporary storage sites, where steel rebar is already being stripped from concrete waste. But some unauthorized dumping has unfortunately taken place, generating potential threats to human settlements, agricultural lands and delicate ecosystems, and concern has grown around the need for greater care in handling hazardous waste.

The first step in the project will be to support the Ministry of Environment, Urbanization and Climate Change (MoEUCC) in mapping existing storage sites and identifying any “hotspots” created by irregular dumping. Next an earthquake debris management strategy and implementation plan will be prepared. The Japanese funding will be used to construct two large-scale recycling facilities equipped with industrial-scale crushers, magnetic separators and belt conveyors, and to dispatch mobile crushers to process debris at smaller storage sites. Training will be provided to the operators, technicians and managers of the process, and municipal officials, community leaders and civic activists will be briefed on sound environmental cleanup practices in an effort to build enthusiasm for rubble recycling and discourage uncontrolled dumping near population centers, aquatic resources, farms or protected areas.

Japan has already contributed to the earthquake response by allowing UNDP to repurpose US$417,000 in ongoing project funding to provide urgently needed waste-management equipment and supplies to Hatay province. 
Japan was UNDP’s largest donor worldwide in 2022. In the past five years, Japan has contributed more than US$6.7 million to UNDP initiatives in Türkiye dedicated to better livelihoods, human rights and environmental protection.

For more information: 
Bahar Paykoç, Communications Officer for UNDP in Türkiye, bahar.paykoc@undp.org