Bangladesh is an earthquake-prone country and it, as per the historical data, may face a quake of magnitude 7 on the Richter scale anytime soon.
Experts fear that such a big earthquake would cause massive damages and huge deaths as the authorities here have literally no preparations to combat the disaster.
Speakers at a roundtable on Saturday put light on the scenario and suggested that the authorities place utmost importance on the issue and take necessary preparations to deal with the feared aftermath of the disaster.
Also, they underscored the need for strict compliance of rules and regulations in construction of new buildings and for strengthening the old buildings through renovation.
Prothom Alo and GPH Ispat jointly arranged the roundtable, titled ‘Preparations to combat earthquake risks in Bangladesh’, at the newspaper’s office at Karwan Bazar in the capital on Saturday.
Addressing the event, Mehedi Ahmed Ansary, a civil engineering department professor of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), said as per historical data, a region may face a magnitude 7 earthquake after every 100 to 150 years. Bangladesh is now under the risk of such an earthquake as this region experienced five big earthquakes from 1869 to 1930.
“We need preparations for this,” the BUET professor said, recommending a third party assessment on sustainability of the old buildings and monitoring for the under-construction buildings.
Also, the authorities should arrange training sessions on earthquake handling for the construction professionals, including the fresh graduates of architecture, planning and civil engineering departments.
Nurul Huda, president of Institute of Engineers Bangladesh (IEB) and former chairman of Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (RAJUK), said, “We have no preparations to limit the earthquake damages. The government has to play the key role here while the professionals will play their respective roles.”
Stressing proper coordination, the IEB president said there is no coordination among more than 50 organisations operating under the RAJUK areas. A metropolitan government, under the leadership of a minister, can be introduced to coordinate the organisations and settle contradictory laws and regulations. It will also ensure that each of the new buildings is constructed complying with the Bangladesh National Building Code (BNBC). At the same time, it will ensure demolition of old buildings that do not meet the BNBC standard.
Aktar Mahmud, professor of urban and regional planning at Jahangirnagar University (JU), cited the massive death-toll recorded from earthquakes in Haiti and Chile in 2010. Some 316,000 people lost their lives in a 7 magnitude earthquake in Haiti, when an 8.8 magnitude earthquake claimed only 515 lives in Chile.
Referring to the comparatively lower death-toll in the stronger quake in Chile, he said the South American nation introduced a national building code after a quake in the 60s and ensured its compliance in the following decades. And the result is evident in the low death toll in the 2010 devastating quake.
The JU professor pointed out that Bangladesh also has a similar building code, but its implementation is still a far cry. The real success would come only after proper implementation of the code and other relevant laws.
The director of Dhaka University’s institute of disaster management and vulnerability studies, Dilara Zahid, said Bangladesh is expected to be a developed country by 2041, but all the achievements would go in vain if the authorities fail to construct quake-resilient infrastructures.
“We need to believe that we have already been under the earthquake threat. Necessary steps should be taken out of this panic,” she added.
Mohammad Abu Sadek, executive director of the Centre for Housing and Building Research (CHBR), suggested investments in limiting the damage risk and said a Tk 1 investment would prevent a damage of Tk 10. He called for using concrete blocks, instead of burnt bricks in the construction sites as the latter increases the weights of buildings and damage risks as well.
Fazle Reza Suman, president of Bangladesh Institute of Planners, said as many as 50,000 people would die if a 7.5 magnitude earthquake hits the capital and the authorities fail to conduct rescue drives properly.
“We are talking about smart and digital Bangladesh, but are yet to install technologies that may forecast an earthquake. Now is the time to start work to build a quake-resilient city.”
He suggested all concerned to discharge their respective duties properly and drew attention to the recent earthquake in Turkey where the buildings constructed complying with professional ethics suffered comparatively less damages.
Maj Gen (retd) Abu Sayeed Md Masud, advisor of GPH Ispat, said as the likes of Padma bridge and Padma railway bridge are being built as earthquake-resilient, why the small ones cannot be constructed in a similar way.
Noting that life is more valuable than a building, he said, “We should develop a sense that it will not make a difference if a building sustains damages. We have to save lives and do everything necessary in this regard.”
Munir Hasan, digital transformation and youth programme coordinator of Prothom Alo, emphasised on undertaking awareness programmes focusing not only on the post-earthquake period, but also other times.
Abdul Quayum, associate editor of Prothom Alo, delivered the opening speech at the event and underlined proper urban planning to deal with the earthquake risks, construction of buildings with sustainable materials complying with the rules, and preservation of the country’s digital progress during disasters.
Firoz Choudhury, assistant editor of Prothom Alo, moderated the roundtable.