Friday, September 27, 2019

Stopping Deadly Earthquakes

Socialism won't stop earthquakes but it can minimise the damage from them.

Shoddy building construction, old housing and lax oversight leave Pakistan especially vulnerable to deadly earthquakes, experts in disasters and architecture say, and likely exacerbated damage from a tremor that killed at least 37 people. The 5.8 magnitude earthquake levelled houses, shops and other buildings, and injured around 500 people on Tuesday near Mirpur, in Pakistan's part of Kashmir.

Most of the deaths and injuries were caused by old village houses collapsing, said Sardar Gulfaraz Khan, the deputy inspector general of police for Mirpur district.

There are lots of old homes and apparently the damage was done to those. The few new homes in the district, built with stronger structures, all survived. Homes built with bricks or concrete blocks are particularly vulnerable, because each building unit shifts independently in an earthquake, said retired architecture professor Yasmin Cheema.

Even among new houses, a dangerous construction model of unreinforced masonry with no involvement from a structural engineer is widespread in Pakistan's towns and cities, according to Muhammad Masood Rafi, the head of NED University's earthquake engineering department. He is organising a team of engineering students and experts to travel to Mirpur and investigate the situation.

"These are very vulnerable buildings and they face the chance of damage and destruction when they are subjected to unusual forces," he said. In a country where a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line, Rafi said the poor bore almost the entire brunt of badly constructed buildings. "Mostly, only the poor are affected by the disasters, not the rich," he said.

A 2005 earthquake that devastated much of Kashmir and killed more than 80,000 people prompted an update to Pakistan's building code to make rebuilt houses safer. But 14 years on, some say complacency has set in.

"Disasters happen and the people have to just look after themselves because the institutions are not strong enough," said architect Arif Hasan, referring to local authorities who enforce standards. "We don't have the teeth or the finances to do it."

Rapid urbanization in Pakistan has meant housing has been quickly built to keep up with demand, said Michael Kugelman, senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center think-tank.
"It all becomes quite unregulated, inefficient, and ultimately dangerous," he said.

Chaudhry Tariq Farooq, Pakistani Kashmir's minister for physical planning and housing, said there have indeed been lapses in enforcement of building codes.

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