Around 250,000 buildings in the three major cities of Bangladesh—Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet—are extremely vulnerable to earthquakes, according to a recent survey.
Some 142,000 among 180,000 buildings in Chittagong; 24,000 out of 52,000 in Sylhet; and 78,000 out of 326,000 buildings in Dhaka were detected as risky.
“The survey results were very shocking,” ASM Maksud Kamal, national adviser on tsunami, cyclone and earthquake risk of the Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme (CDMP), said as the results were revealed on Thursday.
The results of the survey, carried out under Phase-1 of the CDMP, were presented at a national workshop on earthquake preparedness in Bangladesh, held at Sonargaon Hotel.
The study was conducted to detect ‘highly vulnerable’ buildings, using a new software called HAZUS, in the country’s three major cities.
Kamal, a professor of geological sciences at Dhaka University, said, “We have faced two or three severe earthquakes within the last 150 years… But because of the long interval since the last major tremor, the possibility of a dangerous strike in the near future is rising.”
Professor Jamilur Reza Chowdhury, vice chancellor of BRAC University and president of the Bangladesh Earthquake Society, a multidisciplinary research-based group, said the CDMP survey made significant progress with a successful fault-line search aided by modern technology and foreign experts. “The survey is the first of its kind in our country,” he said.
In course of the survey conducted from February 2008 to August 2009, a database of all the buildings and maps of roads, electricity, water and gas pipe lines were developed to assess possible damages that could occur during an earthquake.
The active fault studies under the survey revealed five different segments as potential to be source of earthquake in the future. Sylhet, for the Dauki fault, and Chittagong, for the Plate Boundary fault- 1, 2 & 3 in the Bay, are among the most vulnerable cities.
Dhaka too is vulnerable, even in a mid-level tremor, because of its high density population and highrise concrete structures, for the Madhupur blind fault.
Assessment vs Preparedness
Experts observed that though disaster assessment has moved ahead with the survey, there have been hardly any tangible measures taken by way of disaster preparedness.
On its part, the housing and public works ministry has initiated programmes to reactivate the building code, which was formulated 16 years back. A work order has been circulated and an advisory body formed to revise and update the existing code. Officials said the process will end sometime next year.
RAJUK, the city corporations and other concerned government agencies have to come forward in a coordinated move to ensure strict compliance with the building code, said Chowdhury.
He further said that earthquake will have to be included in the Standing Order of Disaster (SOD) to allow taking stringent legal steps against violation of building codes.
Volunteers are also being trained and equipment collected and distributed under the CDMP, said Chowdhury underlining that volunteers are the foundation to fight a “sudden” disaster like earthquake.
Directions on how hospitals, fire service and rescuers, including the armed forces, will respond to an eventual disaster will have to come soon, he said.
Food and disaster management minister Abdur Razzaque said the government has already started to build a 62,000-strong volunteer corps within the next few years while the fire service and civil defence department are being equipped with search and rescue tools under the CDMP.
The government has recently approved an additional Tk 70 crore to procure more sophisticated rescue equipment for the defence forces to handle any major earthquake disaster.
The minister said rescue training activities and advocacy campaigns among the decision makers, planners, teachers and school children are being conducted in the risky zones of Bangladesh—Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet—to reduce urban risks in the event of any major earthquake.
An Earthquake Contingency Plan has been developed through training programmes and exercises are being conducted to implement the plan effectively, Razzaque added.
The draft National Plan for Disaster Management 2008-2015 is underway, which will be finally approved by the government, containing an earthquake management plan.
Speaking at the workshop, ambassador and head of delegation of the European Commission Stefan Frowein said the risk of a major earthquake is looming large and urged for intensifying disaster preparedness through creating awareness among the city dwellers.
UNDP country director Stefan Priesner appreciated the success of CDMP in introducing the in-depth research towards building a database.
The CDMP is being supported jointly by UNDP, DFID and European Commission in collaboration with Bangladesh government.
Some 1, 30,000 people could be killed right away if an earthquake of 7.5 magnitude, originating from the Madhupur blind fault, strikes capital Dhaka in the daytime, the survey says.
The number of deaths will be a touch less, around 1,22,000, if the tremor takes place at 2am.
Nearly 26,000 people will require hospitalisation and a further 7,000 first aid, said the vulnerability assessment survey aimed to develop an earthquake contingency plan for Bangladesh.
A quake measuring 8 on Richter scale from the plate boundary fault-2, close to Chittagong, will kill around 69,900 people in the capital in the daytime, while 13,600 will need hospitalisation and 61,288 first aid.
The survey was conducted by Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre (APDC) between Feb 2008 and Aug 2009 under the government’s Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme (CDMP).
APDC is a Thailand-based non-profit organisation implementing programmes to reduce the impact of disasters upon countries and communities in Asia and the Pacific.
It has been given mandate to provide technical supports in seismic hazard and risk assessment and to develop scenario-based contingency plan for the three major cities – Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet – extremely vulnerable to earthquakes.
The reasons behind the vulnerability are poor and congested construction, unplanned urbanisation and less awareness about earthquakes.
It said a strong earthquake in the Madhupur blind fault, Sylhet’s Dauki fault, or in Chittagong’s Plate Boundary fault-1, 2 & 3 in the Bay, will cause massive destructions to buildings, bridges and supply channels of utility services in the cities.