WEB DESK: The earthquake on Monday could be far more destructive if it were shallow or its epicenter closer, unlike the one in 2005 which killed some 78,000 people and caused extensive damage and destruction to buildings and communication infrastructure.
According to an official assessment, it has caused some 260 deaths, injured about 2,000 and destroyed or damaged some 9,000 private houses and official buildings including schools. In the nation’s Capital, unlike the last time when Margallas Towers collapsed killing scores of its residents, the high-rise structures have withstood equally intense jolts – but only barely. Several multi-storied commercial plazas and apartment buildings have developed cracks, forcing evacuation of the occupants, and may not be returning soon fearing expected aftershocks of the 8.1 magnitude temblor.
Given rampant violation of the Capital Development Authority’s building code by the private developers – more of it connived at than cheated – not only are many high-rise buildings in Islamabad scandalously short on minimum safety requirements like easy access to the emergency exits and reliable lifts, their construction is characterised by use of substandard material.
Now some of these buildings have been closed for inspection by the concerned department to check if the building code was violated, and the occupants, both commercial and residential, have been advised to stay away till they are declared safe. How come then the developers could use substandard material and violate the building plan and yet get the completion certificates without which no building can be occupied. Money works, they say.
This was the second deadly earthquake in a decade, with many more in between, some only slightly milder but no less fatal. A huge quake shook Nepal in April this year killing some 7,000 people. Two years ago we had two temblors in quick secession in Balochistan which took more lives than did the latest one. Even a few weeks ahead of this quake the earth shook under parts of Sindh and Balochistan.
And then we also had a new island along the Mekran coast which came up and then vanished. A number of cities including the capital city of Islamabad straddle fault lines. All of it because our region sits over where the Eurasian Plate is in tectonic collision with the Indian Plate, releasing immense amount of pent-up energy in the form of seismic convulsions.
This fight has gone for many millennia and is not likely to end anytime soon. Are we prepared to live with this eventuality? Unfortunately, however, not much is in evidence in terms of taking precautionary measures like firming up strict building control codes and use of proper construction material. With Islamabad and many other cities the problem is corruption and collusion between the builders of property and the monitors who are supposed to ensure adherence to the construction manuals.
In rural areas, where quakes wreak havoc all the more because built with mud and stone the houses are too fragile. Even if it was difficult to introduce the idea of construction code in distant villages where writ of the states remains weak following the 2005 quake it should have been possible to introduce some new ideas about construction technology befitting the lay of the land and affordable prefab material. Admitted, the government has promptly reacted and put in place effective rescue and relief plans.
But no less crucial is the need to put in place a framework which should help cut down losses of life and property.