India, Pakistan Capitals Vulnerable in Major Earthquakes

The recent 7.0 earthquake that caused over 200,000 deaths in Haiti has revived discussion of potential loss of life from seismic activity in many cities in the developing world, including the South Asian capitals of Islamabad, Kathmandu and New Delhi, all located close to the South Asian fault lines.

GeoHazards International, a Palo Alto, Calif. nonprofit research organization aiming to reduce suffering due to natural disasters, predicts that a 6.0 earthquake on the Richter scale would cause tens of thousands of deaths in major cities in the developing world. Here is GeoHazards' list of top 10 major cities and their expected minimum death tolls in the developing world which are most vulnerable to major earthquakes of 6.0 (or higher) intensity:

1. Kathmandu, Nepal 69,000
2. Istanbul, Turkey 55,000
3. Delhi, India 38,000
4. Quito, Ecuador 15,000
5. Manila, Philippines 13,000
6. Islamabad/Rawalpindi, Pakistan 12,500
7. San Salvador, El Salvador 11,500
7. Mexico City, Mexico 11,500
7. Izmir, Turkey 11,500
10. Jakarta, Indonesia 11,000

San Francisco in 1989 and Haiti this year were hit by earthquakes of equal intensity of 7.0 on Richter scale; yet SF suffered only 63 deaths while the Haiti tremor has claimed over 200,000 lives.

A lower intensity 6.0 earthquake would also cause potential deaths and damage in cities like Los Angeles and Tokyo, but the much higher death toll and greater degree of destruction anticipated in developing nations has more to do with corruption, economics and engineering than geology.

The magnitude 7.6 quake that struck Kashmir and the North West Frontier regions of Pakistan in October 2005 killed over 70,000 people, many in remote parts of the country, not as dense as urban centers like Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The mountainous terrain made it specially difficult to provide disaster relief and contributed to greater casualties.

In Kashmir's 7.6 earthquake, as also in the tremor of slightly higher intensity in 2008 in China that claimed about 70,000 lives each, most of the casualties occurred in collapsed government buildings like thousands of public schools, claiming a disproportionate number of children's lives. The earthquakes in China and Pakistan exacted an outsize toll on schoolchildren, as a large number of crowded schools pancaked into rubble, while better built private buildings next to the public school buildings stood almost undamaged. In sharp contrast to the China and Pakistan, California authorities have closely monitored the construction of schools since a 1933 earthquake in Long Beach killed more than 100 people, many struck by falling debris as they ran out of shaking buildings.

Unfortunately, the construction industry is considered to be the most corrupt of all industries by Transparency International, and the developing nations whose cities show up on the most vulnerable list also figure prominently among the most corrupt nations in surveys conducted by the same organization. Even in places where new building codes exist to minimize potential quake deaths and damage, proper enforcement is absent because of widespread corruption.

As to the cost of building to withstand seismic activity, Dr. Brian Tucker of Geo Hazards believes that schools, hospitals and crucial buildings like the U.N. mission that collapsed in Haiti can be reinforced to withstand quakes by adding just 4% more to the cost of construction--something he urges foreign donors to keep in mind while giving aid. "It's not God that's doing this," Tucker recently told Forbes magazine. "It's men who are not building correctly."

Speaking at a World Affairs Council meeting in San Francisco, Tucker recently talked about his work with The Academy of Sciences in Pakistan to set up remote training of people involved in building construction. Tucker also mentioned Geo Hazards' work with communities in Nepal to retrofit schools to withstand earthquakes. They went door to door to explain to parents what can be done, provided partial funding and training to masons, and the masons then helped reinforce schools and offer services to community members to retrofit or build many earthquake-resistant homes in Kathmandu. Part of the masons' training involved showing them how the slow, wet curing of concrete makes a big difference in its ability to withstand forces created during earthquakes. Proper slow curing of concrete is necessary but not sufficient. Concrete is a material that is very strong in compression, but relatively weak in tension. To compensate for this imbalance in concrete's behavior, rebar (reinforcing carbon steel bar) is cast into it to carry the tensile loads. In collapsed school structures in China and Pakistan, thin, bendable wire was the only evidence of rebar, the material that holds concrete structures together. Generally speaking, the less steel in a concrete building, the less strength it has to withstand movement.

Since the devastation caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that claimed 230,000 lives, the UN has led "Build Back Better" campaign around the world. As part of this effort, the task of rebuilding after disasters has been viewed as an opportunity to bring improved social services, clean water, and sturdier schools to the affected areas. Former US president Bill Clinton is advocating that the lessons learned from this campaign be utilized in Haiti.

As Haiti rebuilds, and organizations like Geo Hazards share their learning from their ongoing work in various earthquake prone nations, it is important for South Asians to pay attention to better prepare for future earthquakes.

Related Links:

Is Haiti Disaster Entirely Natural?

Rampant Corruption in Construction Industry

Bhutto Convicted in Switzerland

Build Back Better

Corruption in Pakistan

Infrastructure Corruption in India

Infrastructure Corruption in Pakistan

Transparency International Survey 2007

Is Siemens Guilty?

Fluor's Anti-Corruption Initiative

Zardari Corruption Probe

Construction, Corruption and Developing Countries


Riaz Haq said…
Here's a BBC report on South Asia's reaction to nuclear crisis at Fukushima, Japan:

The nuclear disaster in Japan has prompted several countries to slow down and even suspend some of their nuclear programmes.

But South Asia - a region that hosts two rival states with nuclear weapons - has made no such move.

No nuclear plants in the region have been shut down nor are any expected to be suspended in the wake of the Fukushima crisis.

Instead, the Bangladeshi government announced on Tuesday that it would go ahead with its earlier plan to build a nuclear power plant with the help of Russia.

The Pakistani government has chosen to remain quiet although all three of its nuclear plants are said to face risks from earthquakes or tsunamis.

Major regional player India has announced a review of safety systems in its nuclear power plants but many believe there are no indications for a shift in its pro-nuclear policy.

"India's Department of Atomic Energy and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India will try to reassure the people of India that they are far more superior than everybody else in the world and this kind of accident would never happen in Indian facilities," read a statement by the National Alliance of Anti-Nuclear Movements, a civil campaign in India.

It also accused the authorities of admitting that one of the reactors in south India was built without factoring in the risks from tsunamis.
'No alarm'

Another activist group, the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace said: "The (Fukushima) incident calls for a thorough review and transparent audit of the safety performance of all nuclear reactors in India, as well as of evacuation and other emergency procedures, which are known to be flawed."

In Pakistan also, few civil societies have raised the alarm.

"The aged Karachi nuclear plant on the coast is as much susceptible with as much serious consequence [as nuclear plants in] Japan because of the proximity of a dense population," said the Pakistan Peace Coalition in its statement.

"The two reactors in Chashma are known to be sitting on a number of criss-crossing tectonic plates."

Pakistan's leading newspaper, The Dawn, wrote in its editorial: "The government needs to reassure the people that natural disaster contingencies are in place at the nuclear units."
Riaz Haq said…
Here's a PRI report on building collapse in Lahore, Pakistan:

A recent string of building collapses serve as a deadly reminder of the costs of not maintaining and inspecting aging infrastructure.

There have been a number of major building collapses in different parts of the world in recent weeks.

Lahore, Pakistan. Beirut, Lebanon. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Sao Paulo, Brazil

The building that collapsed in Lahore, Pakistan, killing more than 20 people, was a factory. An exploding boiler may be the cause.

The building that collapsed in Beirut killed at least 25 people. Cracks in the building made worse by heavy rain may have caused the collapse. Or perhaps its foundations were weakened by nearby construction.

In any case, for the professionals, a building collapse is one of the worst things that can happen.

Cameron Sinclair, one of the founders of the non-profit group Architecture for Humanity, said what’s scary is rarely the design of buildings, rather it’s how those designs are constructed.

“The quality of construction is diminishing greatly,” he said. “There was a time when we as architects would deal with a whole system of master craftsmen who would be working on the finer details of a building. Now it’s kind of like the McDonald's of building. It’s a lot of cookie-cutter, dropped-in solutions that are done to maximize profit locally.”

That may be true, but it doesn’t account for the building stock the world already has. The factory that collapsed in Pakistan was about 25 years old, and the Lebanese building dated from the 1920s.

In these cases it’s more a matter of upkeep and regulation.

For instance, one commentator suggested that, in Beirut, the fact that old laws keep some rents very low means landlords don’t spend money on standard safety inspections.

And it’s problems with enforcing the rules that Christopher Gaffney thinks are to blame for recent building collapses in Brazil. In Rio de Janeiro a 20-story building collapsed onto two smaller buildings, both of which also went down.

Gaffney is an architecture professor there, and he noted that Brazil has a long and proud tradition of structural engineering.

“So this was a bit of a surprise and it’s turn into a tourist attraction of sorts," Gaffney said. "But in terms of a shock at the falling apart of public infrastructure, people were not terribly surprised.”

Gaffney sees cracks not in Rio’s buildings so much as in the city’s civic infrastructure: no-one’s stepping up to take the blame.

“The mayor doesn’t want to take responsibility, the governor doesn’t want to take responsibility, the engineering firms don’t want to take it,” he said. “And so this is a concern of mine in general for the way that the World Cup is going to be run.”

That’s the soccer World Cup in 2014, a major event that’s only going to increase the stress on Rio de Janeiro. Rio’s problems are big and systemic, and Gaffney doesn’t see the city’s leaders tackling them.

“When you have a big event coming in, when you have these gross failures of public administration, you expose yourself to international coverage and you expose your weaknesses,” he said.

Anywhere in the world, developing big systems takes a long time, whether it’s building a culture of responsibility or a well-regulated inspection regime, or a seamless construction process.

Maybe, said Sinclair, that’s why it’s easier to blame fate when things go wrong.

“When we assume it’s a freak accident, we dismiss it and we just ignore it," he said.
Riaz Haq said…
Here's a Daily Times report on seismic monitoring in Pakistan:

KARACHI: The project to install new broadband seismic stations equipped with advance technology that was initiated following the 2005 Kashmir Earthquake to strengthen seismic monitoring system, has completed.
Pakistan Meteorology Department (PMD) has planned to officially inaugurate these stations on May 16, 2013 in Islamabad. The existing ten broadband seismic stations are British technology and the new stations are based on Chinese technology.
Under the project, ten new broadband seismic stations were installed, bringing the total number to 20 in Pakistan. These new seismic stations, installed in Skardu, Charath, Tarbela, Islamabad, Salt Range Punjab, Fort Munro, Dera Ghazi Khan, Lahore and Nangarparkar, have been integrated with the existing seismic network of the PMD. The project aims at better monitoring of earthquakes and precise earthquake hazard assessment.
On October 8, 2005 an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale struck northern Pakistan and Azad Kashmir, killing around 73,000 people and displacing 3.5million in its wake. Followed by the earthquake, when nations around the world were helping financially and were sending relief goods, China promised to strengthen the seismic monitoring system in Pakistan. Pak-China Seismograph Network was initiated and implemented by China Earthquake Network Centre (CENC) and China Earthquake Administration (CEA) to fulfil the promise.
Additionally, state of the art and advanced Very Broad Band (VBB) sensor has also been installed in PMD’s station located in Margla Hills, Islamabad, thus making Pakistan the only South Asian country in possession of this technology.
“This project is a great achievement and now Pakistan has 20 broadband stations, all connected via satellite,” said PMD Seismology Division Islamabad Director Zahid Rafi.
Most of these new broadband stations are installed either in northern areas or in Punjab, however, the coastline of Sindh and Balochistan was not considered in the project.
Pakistan has witnessed several tsunamigenic earthquakes in the past along the coast of the Arabian Sea in Sindh and Balochistan. Several experts forecast destructive tsunamis on these coastlines in the future due to the presence of Makran Subduction Zone or MSZ as the potential source in the region.
Despite these warnings, the Pakistani government has never considered installing the broadband seismometers on the coastal belt.
The PMD official data reveals that out of the existing ten broadband stations only two were installed on Sindh and Balochistan’s coasts; one in Turbat and another in Karachi. However, experts are of the view that due to the presence of MSZ these areas need more broadband stations.\04\06\story_6-4-2013_pg12_3
Riaz Haq said…
Here's a Reuters report on a powerful 7.8 earthquake near Iran-Pakistan border:

(Reuters) - A powerful earthquake struck a border area of southeast Iran on Tuesday killing at least 35 people in neighboring Pakistan, destroying hundreds of houses and shaking buildings as far away as India and Gulf Arab states.

Communications with the sparsely-populated desert and mountain region were largely cut off, making it difficult to assess Iranian casualties. But an Iranian provincial governor later said there were no reports of deaths there so far.

"Our staff were in a meeting and we felt the ground shake," Saleh Mangi, Programme Unit Manager for Plan International in the Pakistani town of Thatta, was quoted as saying by the British office of the children's charity.

"It was horrible - we felt the movement in the chairs and even the cupboards were shaking. This is the strongest quake I have felt since the 1980s."

Pakistani officials said at least 30 people were killed and 150 injured in the town of Mashkeel in the southwestern Pakistani province of Baluchistan, which borders Iran.

Mohammed Ashraf, head of a health center in Mashkeel, said several hundred houses in the town had caved in. Three women and two children were also killed when their mud house collapsed in the Baluchistan district of Panjgur.

"The earthquake has killed at least five people in Panjgur," said Ali Imran, an official at the government disaster-response unit in Quetta, Baluchistan's main city.

Pakistan's army said it had deployed troops and helicopters to ferry tents, medicines and medical teams to Mashkeel.


Iran appeared to have emerged relatively unscathed. National media reported that 27 people were injured and that the significant depth was the likely reason for the relatively low level of damage from a 7.8 magnitude quake.

Soon after the quake, an Iranian official told Reuters he expected hundreds of dead and state media quoted unconfirmed reports of 40 fatalities in Iran.

But Hatam Narouyi, governor of Iran's Sistan and Baluchistan province, said there were "no fatalities", the student news agency (ISNA) reported.

The U.S. Geological Survey, in a revised bulletin, said the quake hit at 1044 GMT at a depth of 82 km (51 miles). The epicenter was 198 km (123 miles) southeast of the city of Zahedan and 250 km northwest of Turbat in Pakistan.

People in the Iranian city of Zahedan poured into the streets when it struck, Fars news agency reported. Officials in Saravan, the nearest city to the epicenter, said there had been no serious damage.

Iranian Red Crescent official Morteza Moradipour said emergency crews, including dog teams to sniff through the debris for any buried survivors, had reached the area.

"Because of the strength of the earthquake we had expected to see significant damage in residential areas but the quake was at a depth of 95 km and therefore the extent of the damage was on par with earthquakes measuring magnitude 4," he said.

The U.N.'s Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said it was in contact with authorities in Iran and "stands ready to assist upon request", a spokesman said....
Riaz Haq said…
#NepalEarthquake: #Pakistan Air Force Relief Plane Crew Caught in Aftershock via @NBCNews

KATHMANDU, Nepal — Landing a plane laden with aid in earthquake-struck Nepal proved particularly hair-raising for a Pakistan Air Force crew on Tuesday who touched down right as an aftershock hit.

Ahmad Bilal, Pakistan Air Force Squadron Leader, said that "right in the middle" of an exchange with air traffic control while the plane taxied, the controller stopped talking.

"I thought my [comms were] out," Bilal told NBC News minutes after landing his American-made Hercules aircraft at Kathmandu airport. "We were just rolling around. And then [the controller] comes back, 15 minutes later. He had run off because of the aftershocks."

Bilal successfully landed 40 tons of aid, 18 Pakistani engineers and two search-and-rescue dogs to find those caught up in Saturday's devastating 7.8-magnitude quake. The crew then unloaded the aid as a tremor violently shook the flight.

"When we stopped and were unloading all the supplies, and I was warming things down in the instruments, I read around a 30 degree lurch to the left and then a 30 degree right. On a stationary aircraft that weighs 150,000 pounds," technician Sanaullah Khan said. "Then the whole plane was lurched four feet forward. That's when, in the distance, a building collapsed and the dust raced towards us. It was like a sandstorm it came so fast."

Seeing the devastation on the ground prompted the seven-man crew to give away the food and water they had brought with them to the earthquake victims.

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