Earthquake Exodus Endangers Turkish Manufacturing

Mehmet Alkan, a shoe-sole manufacturer in Turkey’s earthquake-hit south, doesn’t know what will become of his company after some of his 220 employees died and half fled, reflecting the difficult transformation ahead for industry in the region.

Forty of his workers and some families sheltered for a while in the undamaged Alkan Taban factory in Antakya after the massive quakes on Feb. 6.

“We only have 110 workers after some died and others left the city, so production capacity dropped,” said Alkan, the manager.

Turkey’s deadliest disaster in modern history struck a region rich in textile production and agriculture that accounts for 16% of total employment and around 11% of industrial production, a report by the Istanbul Chamber of Industry showed.

It forced millions to leave 11 southeastern provinces that were home to some 14 million people. Some say they may not return despite Ankara’s plan to swiftly rebuild hundreds of thousands of damaged or collapsed buildings.

Hundreds of businesses that re-started operations a month after the quake face shortages of staff who moved to nearby villages, relatives in other cities or to government-sponsored accommodation of tents and container homes, interviews show.

“We turned our showroom into a dormitory” for employees, Alkan said. “Most of their families left the city or moved to safer village areas. They are afraid. We are waiting for others to come back.”

He said the company’s shuttle used to drive up to 50 km (30 miles) to collect workers from their homes, but it now drives double that distance to reach the villages.

The disaster, which killed more than 52,000 people in Turkey and Syria, is a challenge to President Tayyip Erdogan’s plan to transform Turkey into a competitive manufacturing power. Business groups and economists estimate quake fallout costing some $100 billion and shaving one to two percentage points off the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Some funding meant to boost production, employment and exports under Erdogan’s economic plan will be directed towards aid and rebuilding efforts in the area, they say.

By Susana Vera and Ceyda Caglayan