Sunday, November 14, 2010

forex trading ARDESHIR COWASJEE ARTICLES : The next Haiti? — II

The message said: “I think a lot of our colleagues in Haiti may have been saved if they had had an ‘earthquake awareness’ workshop in which they could have been advised of what an earthquake sounds like before the shaking and tremors start — some of the staff who recognised what the ‘roar’ was, ran outdoors and were saved. Earthquake safety information must be disseminated to the public at large, so Pakistanis are better prepared. Preparedness is the key to survival.”
The 8.8 Richter Scale earthquake in Chile which followed shortly thereafter resulted in less than 1,000 deaths, compared to over 250,000 in the lower-intensity Haiti catastrophe. Experts attribute this to better compliance with seismic construction codes and greater distance of population concentrations from the epicentre.
Information on what one must do before, during and after an earthquake is available on numerous websites — the Red Cross, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Authority) and international groups handling emergencies and disaster-preparedness. Recommendations differ, depending on the quality and type of construction. In the US, the ‘drop, cover, and hold on’ approach is generally advocated, while in countries with poor construction where buildings collapse and ‘pancake’ during even moderate earthquakes the ‘void identification method’ or the ‘Triangle of Life’ may be the best thing.
An article in the New York Times of Feb 25 entitled ‘Disaster awaits cities in earthquake zones’, focused on Istanbul as “one of a host of quake-threatened cities in the developing world where populations have swelled far faster than the capacity to house them safely, setting them up for disaster of a scope that could, in some cases, surpass the devastation in Haiti from last month’s earthquake.”
The next quake could kill 30,000 to 40,000 people and injure over 120,000 because “the city is rife with buildings with glaring flaws, like ground floors with walls or columns removed to make way for store displays, or a succession of illegal new floors added in each election period on the presumption that local officials will look the other way. On many blocks, upper floors jut precariously over the sidewalk, taking advantage of an old permitting process that governed only a building’s footprint.” This sounds eerily like Karachi with its exploding construction.
Calling houses and buildings “an unrecognised weapon of mass destruction”, the article includes Karachi, Dhaka, Cairo, Bangkok, Tehran, Jakarta, Lima and Kathmandu on “a long list of big poor cities facing inevitable major earthquakes”. But, unlike Karachi, whose population has exploded from 0.4 million in 1947 to 18 million today, Istanbul is trying to do something about its “rubble in waiting”.
An earthquake master plan (available on the Internet) has been created for the city by four Turkish universities. It promotes a social contract between the central government, local government, district municipalities, NGOs, business enterprises, and institutions to work together to prepare for, encounter, and emerge from the next ‘big one’.
The government is involved from the highest level with “tighter building codes, mandatory earthquake insurance and loans from international development banks for buttressing or replacing vulnerable schools and other public buildings”.
The citizens are also involved so that “non-profit groups, recognising the limits of centralised planning, train dozens of teams of volunteers in poor districts and outfit them with radios, crowbars and first-aid kits so they can dig into the wreckage when their neighbourhoods are shaken”.
It is being ensured that fire-stations, hospitals and schools (as public shelters) continue to stand, by rehabilitating dangerous construction (adding reinforced walls, jackets of new concrete and steel reinforcement around old columns). The threat of thousands of fires from rupturing natural-gas lines, roads blocked by falling structures and billboards, and other like horrors are anticipated and planned for.
Children in school are taught what to do if the ground moves. Civil engineers are educated in the intricacies of seismic design/reinforcement. Public awareness is being heightened. The objective is to “shift existing faith-oriented [Allah ki marzi], reactive and recovery-based policies into proactive, mitigative and preventive approaches”.
What is Karachi doing? The federal, provincial and city governments are completely oblivious to any earthquake threat to the city; ours is the ‘faith-oriented’ view. The KBCA (Karachi Building Control Authority) officials, low on capability, high on corruptibility, would not recognise a dangerous building if it fell on them.
Over the past decade, poorly constructed multi-storeys, erected in brazen violation of so-called ‘KBCA-approved plans’, utilising shoddy materials and workmanship, have been collusively ‘regularised’ by the KBCA, to “protect the life-savings of widows and orphans” (the words of former governor Mohammadmian Soomro). Some 6,300 buildings have been regularised, and 6,600-plus are in the pipeline.
These do not include the 26 high-rises of the Association of Builders & Developers on Sharea Faisal that the KBCA in a 1998 warning-notice declared to be “potentially dangerous … constructed in violation of earthquake-resistant design”. Hundreds of other projects ordered by the Sindh High Court to be demolished still stand.
KBCA takes no responsibility for the seismic stability of buildings ‘regularised’ by them. ‘Briefcase’ architects/engineers have certified illegal structures to be safe, and the KBCA has condoned the offences. Should one structure collapse in an earthquake the architect/engineer will be untraceable; if many fall the KBCA officials will also disappear. The government must warn the occupants of ‘regularised’ (and other poor) structures of the life hazards faced. The officials (KBCA, cantonment boards) who continue to condone dangerous constructions and the builders who violate the codes must be prosecuted. The politicians who sponsor and promote illegal buildings and ‘regularisation ordinances’ must be brought to book.
Can this be done? Or do we have no alternative but to stay with our ‘faith-oriented’ approach.

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