Iran's Earthquake Disaster: "Test of Divine Grace"?

Dear Readers,

Iran’s earthquake disaster and the grim images of tearful mourning and sheer amount of destructions from the ancient city of Bam are appalling. Close to 40,000 Iranians perhaps died. And there are thousands and thousands of more severely injured fighting for their lives in makeshift hospitals since most of Bam’s hospitals are even destroyed from this awful earthquake.

Admirably, other nations and humanitarian organizations have come forward swiftly to help the devastated Iranians on these days of calamity. And the Iranian elected conservative government is doing its best in coordinating the disaster relief efforts. But the questions still remain: why the Iranian government did not take any early precautions, or any early efforts in avoiding this catastrophic disaster?

Would citing the bizarre message, like, “test of divine grace” for the deaths and injuries of so many poor Iranians be justifiable?

In a stark contrast, just a few days before, California had an earthquake with similar magnitude, and due to American built better-quality houses, offices, schools and hospitals, stiff regulation on building construction and overall a much better democratic system in place, that only a few people died and few injured with minimum amount of destruction in central California. Now, compare this with earthquake in Iran. What a difference!

Iranian mullah controlled government invested millions and millions of dollars in their clandestine nuclear weapon projects (still not proved but allegedly was in place), or putting millions more in enforcing their veiling or other freedom curtailing laws, but would not pay any heed to the numerous calls from various Iranian quarters including many editorials and opinions published previously for the “urgent and decisive earthquake prevention measures”.

Shargh, an Iranian newspaper laments: "Despite all the knowledge at our disposal, and after many years of experience, we have not managed to overcome our susceptibility,"

Blaming the “test of divine grace” for the negligence of the mortals is one of the many arsenals of the conservatives of many kinds throughout the world. And mostly poor women, children and men pay the “price” with their lives.

Perhaps, with outpouring condolences from around the world, Iran should seek more outside advanced help along with their own in-place expertise, so that preventative earthquake measures are in place, rather than feeling helpless and lamenting over mangled and buried bodies of thousands after another earthquake hits this seismic active region again.

There should not be any excuses.

Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
December 27, 2003

Dangerous buildings, lax rules: why Bam death toll was so high

Tania Branigan and Brian Whitaker
Saturday December 27, 2003
The Guardian

Many of those killed by the earthquake in Bam died only because of poor building methods and a lack of proper regulation, an expert on the devastated city said yesterday.

In Iran, as in many developing countries, tremors that ought to be survivable often bring human tragedy on a vast scale because buildings collapse on top of people.

Two days before Christmas, California was struck by an earthquake similar in magnitude to the one that hit Iran yesterday, but only three people died, thanks largely to safer construction methods.

Bam, in contrast, was a disaster waiting to happen. Efforts to bring industrial development to what was a backward agricultural area caused a population boom and a shortage of housing, which local builders tried to meet with cheap, jerry-built homes, or by adding extra floors to existing houses.

"Many buildings collapse [even] without earthquakes, because of the poor construction," said Professor Mohsen Aboutorabi of the architecture department at the University of Central England, Birmingham, who has worked in Bam.

"There are building regulations, but they haven't been enforced except for highrises. People are desperately in need of housing so the authorities overlook the code of building for earthquakes."

Much of the building work is done by property owners themselves, using untrained local labour.

There has also been little research into low-cost techniques to protect buildings in the area against earthquakes, he added.

Building materials are often inadequate for normal purposes, let alone for use in an earthquake zone. Typical houses are constructed of burnt brick, with mud and lime for the bonding.

"On my last trip to Iran I banged two bricks together and they became like powder. Demand for materials is so high that manufacturers don't stick to any standards," Prof Aboutorabi said. "The cost of cement is very high, so they don't use much."

Ideally, houses in earthquake-prone regions should have lightweight pitched roofs, closely bonded together, he said.

But builders in Bam had largely abandoned the use of corrugated metal - which would be suitable - because of short supplies and a belief that it does not last long.

Instead, they used industrial materials without understanding their properties, he said.

This results in lethally heavy roofs and ceilings.

Many roofs are supported by metal beams between traditional brick arches.

On top of that they put a layer of concrete and waterproofing.

"The ends of the beams sit freely on the walls, so with any shake, if one goes, the whole roof collapses," Prof Aboutorabi said.

Although Bam had few tall buildings, in recent years the high cost of land had encouraged families to abandon the traditional style of single-storey homes, with rooms set around a courtyard, in favour of two or three floors, adding to the danger in the event of an earthquake.

Despite the lack of safety precautions, the Iranian authorities are well-accustomed to dealing with the aftermath of earthquakes.

Their response yesterday was swift, though hampered by the loss of telephone contact with the city.

This may bring relief to the survivors, but the more serious problem is a lack of sustained efforts to prevent future tragedies.

"They may create a policy after a disaster, but it's never implemented," Prof Aboutorabi said. "Six months after a disaster they forget it - it just happens again.",12858,1112938,00.html