India, Pakistan Capitals Vulnerable in Major Earthquakes
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.
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