Following the devastating earthquakes that struck Türkiye in February 2023, the World Bank, supported by GFDRR, mounted a rapid response and initiated an assessment to determine the immediate direct damage costs of the disaster. Leveraging the Global Rapid Post-Disaster Damage Estimation (GRADE) methodology—which employs a wide array of data sources, including historical damage records, satellite imagery, expert insights, government data, and social media inputs—GFDRR produced a preliminary estimate of the direct physical damage. Both the findings and the quick turnaround—the assessment was completed in just two weeks—played a crucial role in supporting the response and recovery initiatives of both the World Bank and Türkiye’s government. 

The assessment found that beyond the tragic loss of life—around 46,000 people lost their lives—the earthquakes incurred a staggering financial toll: direct physical damages exceeded $34.2 billion. While the findings of the GRADE report were grim, they paved the path forward for the urgent tasks of recovery and reconstruction. 

According to Humberto López, the World Bank Country Director for Türkiye, the assessment was valuable not only because it evaluated the approximate cost of the physical destruction wrought by the earthquakes but also because it determined which areas bore the brunt of the damage. “Was it in private sector housing, in public sector buildings, basic public infrastructure such as roads?” he said at the GFDRR 2023 Partnership Days. “For us, that was extremely helpful.” 

He added that this nimble response— which also included support for emergency response and a reallocation of existing projects in the country to aid resilient recovery—further boosted the credibility of the World Bank and GFDRR as reliable partners committed to advancing disaster resilience in Türkiye. 

The GRADE report also had a multiplier effect: together with a $1 million grant mobilized from GFDRR through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), it provided a foundation for the World Bank– financed $1 billion Türkiye Earthquake Reconstruction and Recovery Project, which will facilitate the restoration of critical municipal and health services as well as the reconstruction of resilient rural housing in the regions affected by the earthquakes. Guided by building-back better principles, the project will enhance Türkiye’s resilience in the face of future seismic and climate-related hazards. 

Building the foundation for disaster resilience

Even before the deadly earthquakes struck, GFDRR and the World Bank had been establishing the groundwork for bolstering disaster resilience in Türkiye. 

Lying atop one of the world’s most active earthquake zones, with several major fault lines running beneath its surface, Türkiye has an urgent need to fortify its built environment against seismic risks. To put this vulnerability into perspective, an earthquake of a magnitude typical for a 200-year event striking around Istanbul has the potential to plunge 500,000 people into poverty. 

GFDRR’s Japan-World Bank Program for Mainstreaming Disaster Risk Management in Developing Countries (Japan-World Bank DRM Program) has contributed to the preparation of the World Bank–financed $266 million Seismic Resilience and Energy Efficiency in Public Buildings Project, which aims to improve seismic and disaster resilience and increase energy efficiency in public buildings. At the same time, the project aims to reinforce the policy framework and institutional capabilities necessary for constructing, financing, and implementing resilient and sustainable public buildings in the country. In the days and weeks following the 2023 earthquakes, the project played a crucial role in mobilizing essential equipment to support the deployment of over 7,000 experts to assess the damage, meticulously evaluating each building. 

GFDRR is supporting this project to identify innovative engineering approaches for upgrading the structural integrity and energy efficiency of existing buildings and optimizing the design of new structures. This work will also emphasize knowledge transfer of new engineering techniques and will explore global best practices for conducting swift and cost-effective engineering assessments of buildings. 

GFDRR’s Japan-World Bank DRM Program has also been providing technical support to promote earthquake-proof, climate resilient, and environmentally sustainable buildings in Türkiye. It is also facilitating the development of a  seismic- and climate-resilient, green, and inclusive urban built environment in the country. This technical assistance is informing the preparation of the World Bank–financed Green and Future Cities Project by supporting broader policy discussions and studies focusing on the use of nature based solutions for urban resilience. 

GFDRR has also played a key role in the preparation of the World Bank–financed $512 million Climate and Disaster Resilient Cities Project, which aims to expand access to earthquake- and climate resilient housing and strengthen municipal infrastructure and services within designated provinces in the country. In addition to GFDRR’s technical assistance support, a grant from the GFDRR-managed Japan-World Bank DRM Program advanced analytics on housing, social engagement, and gender, among other areas, to ensure that the project’s efforts are socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable.

Meanwhile, GFDRR’s City Resilience Program helped to evaluate area-based urban transformation initiatives across different project cities. This multifaceted support underscores GFDRR’s comprehensive approach to strengthening resilience—the same approach that was recognized in September 2023, when the Climate and Disaster Resilient Cities Project won in the innovation in risk management category at the Innovative Lawyers Awards (Europe) 2023 organized by the Financial Times

GFDRR has also contributed to generate knowledge that can serve as guidance for Türkiye in the development of national level strategies and policies focused on building up climate resilience and adaptation—with a view toward inclusion, economic growth, and risk management. Through its involvement, GFDRR has played a significant role in advancing the understanding of the interconnections between climate change, disaster risk, and poverty in the country. It has also provided valuable insights into estimating the macro-fiscal repercussions of natural disasters and climate-related impacts. These insights, which are based on modeling of the country’s exposure to seismic and fiscal risks, informed the Türkiye Country Climate and Development Report

Education infrastructure for resilience: A commitment to uphold

Since 2017, the Ministry of National Education in Türkiye, in close partnership with the World Bank, GFDRR, and the European Commission, has constructed 62 schools comprising over 1,600 classrooms across the country—structures that were designed with disaster resilience in mind. In a remarkable testament to their robustness against disasters, all 24 schools situated in regions affected by the earthquakes remained intact and sustained minimal, if any, damage.

“Most of the parents came to look at the school. They saw that there is not even the smallest crack or plaster crack in our school,” said Murat Çiçekdal, School Manager for the Martyr Ercan Sanca Primary School, in a video presented at the GFDRR 2023 Partnership Days to demonstrate the impact of GFDRR’s work. “We continue our educational activities seamlessly where we left before the earthquake.” 

Within the realm of the World Bank– financed Education Infrastructure for Resilience Project and the Disaster Risk Management in Schools Project, GFDRR played a pivotal role in bridging knowledge and expertise between the Turkish government and international specialists. This collaboration facilitated the establishment of a seismic risk reduction program and the expansion of disaster-resilient educational infrastructure. These collective efforts— driven by a deep commitment to the safety and well-being of students and school staff—have also brought about a transformation in Kahramanmaraş Province. Four schools temporarily transcended their roles as educational institutions as they became life-saving sanctuaries. Serving as makeshift shelters and central hubs, they played an indispensable role in coordinating essential services, providing support, and uplifting affected communities in the aftermath of the disaster. Soon after, these schools reopened their doors to students so they could immediately resume their studies. Following the 2023 earthquakes, the project will extend its coverage to reconstruct schools in the affected regions and enhance resilience in vulnerable schools in other high seismic risk areas. 

In the same video presented at the GFDRR 2023 Partnership Days, a young boy— galvanized by the sight of his school still standing after the earthquakes—shared his dream of becoming an engineer. “When I grow up, I am going to be an engineer. I am going to build schools and houses,” he said. “Because the houses were destroyed in the earthquake, but I am going to build them like this school.” 

It was a touching moment that showed how the full impact of disaster risk management can go beyond the primary aim of protecting people and physical assets: by showing what is possible through proactive planning, disaster risk management has the profound power to reshape the course of countless lives for the better. As Türkiye confronts the multiple challenges ahead, the boy’s expression of his dream is also a fitting reminder that the country is not alone in the long and difficult journey of recovery and reconstruction. As has been shown over the years, GFDRR and the World Bank stand with Türkiye in building resilience and safeguarding lives through its steadfast support—before, during, and after disasters.

South Africa

View more results stories from fiscal year 2023 in GFDRR's Annual Report 2023.