Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Earthquake Disasters Can Be Prevented




Dear Readers,

There are lessons to be learned from the devastating earthquake in Iran. There are steps to be taken by the nations that are situated in seismic active regions. Brian Tucker observes that in the past five years, similar earthquake occurred in Afghanistan, Turkey, India, El Salvador, Algeria and California. And there are huge differences noted from these episodes. “Since 1950, richer countries have reduced the average number of deaths per fatal tremor by 90 percent. Meanwhile, poorer countries have shown no reduction in death rates at all.” Poorer countries have either no or barely effective earthquake preventative measures taken protecting their citizens, and the poor of these poorer nations are the most vulnerable.

In 1990, Iran had earthquake that killed another 40,000 to 50,000 in the city of Gilan. "So why, despite the loss of 40,000 lives in the Gilan earthquake of 1990, had nothing been done? Fariba Hemati told the Guardian what she thought of official efforts, "Our government is only preoccupied with slogans: 'Death to America', 'Death to Israel', 'Death to this and that'. We have had three major earthquakes in the past three decades. Thousands of people have died but nothing has been done. Why?""[The Guardian]

People have rights to know why their government can be so ineffectual in protecting the lives of very people who have elected them in the first place. People have rights to know why their oil revenues and other profits from a moderately rich nation like Iran were not used in proven earthquake risk reduction projects. People have rights to know the reasons behind the empty theocracy infused rhetoric galvanizing the mass against the Western nations while continuously eroding civil liberties in the name of fighting the "Great Satan"; while the "Great Satan" has proven to be more caring and accountable to the people it serves.

Nature is indeed merciless. And men still feel helpless before the inevitable cruelty of nature. But there are ways minimizing the devastations, there are ways to stand up against nature’s unforgiving onslaught, but it needs global cooperation, and foremost it needs the local government's unblemished leadership.

Brian Tucker duly notes: “With proper earthquake risk reduction, we have the power to save lives and defy the merciless cruelties of nature. Risk reduction is the only sustainable, affordable and effective solution to the problem of earthquake disasters. This is accomplished through risk assessment, public education and awareness, building-code enforcement, training of masons and engineers, emergency-preparedness planning, and retrofitting of buildings and infrastructure.“

Now is the time forgetting the senseless war rhetoric, abandoning the imperial design or nuclear weapons manufacturing or other overt or covert agenda, for the sake of the people. And the last few days there were positive developments, there were visible “thawing” between American and Iranian relationship. As Mr. Powell noted, "The world is watching”, yes, indeed the world is watching.

The world is watching for years and ages.

Regards,
Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
December 30, 2003


Quake Disasters Can Be Prevented

By Brian Tucker

Tuesday, December 30, 2003; Page A19

The earthquake devastation in the ancient Iranian city of Bam seems almost incomprehensible to us. Yet, in the past five years, scenes similar to those we are seeing in the news media have occurred on a smaller or similar scale in Afghanistan, Turkey, India, El Salvador and, most recently, Algeria. These earthquakes killed more than 60,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless. Iran, of course, is no stranger to earthquakes: In 1990 a powerful quake killed 35,000 people in the regions of Gilan and Zanjan, leaving about a half-million homeless.

And yet the truth is that such awful loss of human life and structural devastation need not occur. Consider three major recent California earthquakes: Loma Prieta in 1989, with a 6.9 magnitude; Northridge in 1994, with a 6.7 magnitude, and San Simeon/Paso Robles on Dec. 22 of this year, with a 6.5 magnitude. These relatively strong earthquakes in California resulted in a total of 125 deaths, while this week's Iranian quake, with a somewhat lesser magnitude, may have claimed 40,000 lives. Since 1950, richer countries have reduced the average number of deaths per fatal tremor by 90 percent. Meanwhile, poorer countries have shown no reduction in death rates at all.

What is the lesson? Although we cannot prevent earthquakes, we can prevent earthquake disasters. With proper earthquake risk reduction, we have the power to save lives and defy the merciless cruelties of nature. Risk reduction is the only sustainable, affordable and effective solution to the problem of earthquake disasters. This is accomplished through risk assessment, public education and awareness, building-code enforcement, training of masons and engineers, emergency-preparedness planning, and retrofitting of buildings and infrastructure.

The cost of such risk reduction is relatively low when compared with the monetary and human losses that can occur when an earthquake strikes. In Bam, up to 90 percent of residences can no longer be inhabited, and early reports indicate that almost all public buildings have collapsed. When a community loses its core communal buildings and infrastructure, it loses its ability to repair itself. This loss of ability to rebuild requires massive infusions of external aid. Although the international outpourings of relief assistance and sympathy are welcome as antidotes to the disaster, prevention is the only sustainable solution to a problem inherent in the composition of our planet.

When thoughts turn from rescuing the survivors of the earthquake to rebuilding Bam, some significant fraction of the available resources, both human and fiscal, should be directed to training local masons in how to build earthquake-resistant structures. Too often in the past, well-meaning organizations, in their hurry to provide shelter against severe weather conditions, have built what are essentially rowhouses of concrete boxes. Sometimes these houses are not used by the local people, who sooner or later build again in the traditional, earthquake-vulnerable way. Now that the local population of Bam and the authorities responsible for community safety understand the threat of earthquakes, steps must be taken to reduce the region's earthquake vulnerability. A large number of houses will have to be either built or extensively repaired, and this is the time to train a new generation of masons on how to do things right. This should be a requirement of all reconstruction projects funded by regional banks or national and international aid organizations.

While we mourn the victims of the Bam earthquake and sympathize with the survivors, we cannot ignore the lesson learned from this tragedy. Our energies must be directed to avoiding such disasters in earthquake-prone regions in the future. Concerned citizens, governments, corporations, multilateral development institutions and nonprofit organizations must act together now to help vulnerable communities overcome the barriers to implementing the risk-reduction measures noted above before another deadly earthquake strikes.

The writer is founder and president of GeoHazards International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving global earthquake-safety measures, and a 2002 MacArthur Fellow. He is currently living and working in India.

Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A40028-2003Dec29?language=printer

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