for more Comment, visit Columns
Building better can reduce catastrophic quake deaths
What factors tend to affect whether a
government enforces good earthquake-resistant building codes?
It’s always difficult to generalize. I
just got back from Pakistan, where we
have a big project measuring the deformation of the western edge of India.
Islamabad is a relatively new city, with
earthquake codes; there’s really very
little that should be wrong with it,
particularly because the military have
huge control. Not that they are trying to build quake resistance, but they
prevent people building anywhere they
want. If you go further south, to Karachi, the reverse is true. Corruption is a
way of life there. If you want to put up a
building without building codes to save
money, there are many ways to do it.
How can society reduce the death toll
in big earthquakes?
There’s a top-down problem — a gap
between the important buildings of a
city, like the town hall and hospitals
and schools; well, it should be schools.
Building codes are usually applied for
civic structures. But where are most
people being killed? In their own
dwellings. Governments aren’t really
interested in that level of construction,
but that’s where the effort needs to go.
Is the situation likely to change?
What we have to do is to educate at
a very elementary level. When we go
to school we’re shown how to bake
a cake and do wiring and carpentry.
Nobody ever shows us how to mix a bag
of cement with some sand.
The current building stock will be
replaced in 30 years or so, given building lifetimes. The replacement can be
done right. We are housing 6 billion
people right now. The next 6 billion
could be done right, in principle. It
requires organized social structures
to be implemented in countries that
ought to know better. s