Vol. 5 Num 923 Sun. December 31, 2006  
Star City

Dhaka sleeps over earthquake risks

No tangible progress in earthquake management and risk reduction has taken place as yet mainly due to lack of government initiatives in drawing up a strategic plan, according earthquake experts.

A comprehensive master plan, wooing foreign funds, is a fundamental prerequisite for management of earthquake disaster and risk reduction in the densely populated capital city and elsewhere in the country.

General Secretary of Bangladesh Earthquake Society Prof Mehedi Ahmed Ansary said that unlike many earthquake-prone major cities in the world, neither the city corporation of Dhaka nor the government has taken the earthquake management issue meaningfully.

Governments and managers of the cities like Tehran, Kathmandu, Mumbai, Tashkent, Istanbul, Manila, Shanghai, Bandung and Jakarta have already drawn up their respective master plan on earthquake disaster management and risk reduction.

"Authorities of each of these countries are serious and they own the issue of earthquake management," said Ansary. "Such enthusiasm is absent in Bangladesh."

According to him, the government has to play the role of the principal stakeholder to bring a tangible progress in the sector.

Ansary said proper implementation of Bangladesh National Building Code (BNBC) of 1993, Building Construction Rules of 2006, vulnerability assessment and retrofitting of key point installations are crucial to reduce risk and manage a probable disaster.

Director General of Disaster Management Bureau (DMB) Rafiqul Mohamed said: "The actual problem in earthquake management efforts is that we lack awareness."

"We hear of lot of foreign funds for disaster management but hardly any for earthquake risk reduction. We have approached Jica for fund but no progress has taken place yet."

The DG however said the Bangladesh government is taking part in a training programme tilted Hospital Preparedness for Emergency under the Programme for Enhancement of Emergency Response (PEER).

The earthquake management plan for preparedness and risk reduction has been in limbo due to lack of initiatives and co-ordination among the officials concerned, sources said.

Seismic experts have repeatedly been expressing fear of an impending tragedy in Dhaka City with innumerable worn-out and faulty structures constructed in violation of building codes and approved design.

According to a study conducted by Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) in 2003, about 60 percent structures in Old Dhaka are non-engineered.

Of those, 50 percent are made of flammable materials.

Prof Jamilur Reza Chowdhury, vice-chancellor of Brac University and president of Bangladesh Earthquake Society, said the mayor's office should have had a proactive role in instituting the earthquake management and risk reduction measures for the city.

"Government initiative to complete the national earthquake management strategic plan, now lying at draft level, is absent," Chowdhury said admitting a lack of coordination among the agencies and organisations concerned in the work.

The Earthquake Society of Bangladesh has recently published an Earthquake Resistant Design Manual with the fund from Cida.

Experts and civil engineers say all the non-engineered structures of Dhaka City will collapse even in a moderate-intensity earthquake.

The Assam earthquake in 1897, with the epicentre 250 kilometers off Dhaka, killed 1,542 people and brought down 50 percent of the masonry structures in the city. The city population was then only 90,000.

Prof Ansary and director of DMB engineer Abu Sadeque this year represented Bangladesh in the Asia Megacities Forum-2006 (a cluster cities programme) organised by the Earthquakes and Megacities Initiatives (EMI).

The EMI, a regional forum for disaster risk reduction, organised the event in Kobe, Japan during November 3-4 focusing attention on disaster risk reduction of mega-urban metropolises.

The forum provided an opportunity to share the newly developed experiences, tools and case studies for mega cities disaster risk management particularly in the South Asian cities, said Bangladeshi participants.

Turkish representatives at the workshop shared their experiences of the work that the Turkish government and Istanbul City Corporation have done jointly for a master plan on quake disaster management, said Prof Ansary.

Initially, Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) funded the master plan and now the Istanbul City Corporation has invested $100 million for the next phases of work.

The Jica has also funded the master plan for Tehran and Kathmandu.

Abu Sadeque said that every mega city has its own risk reduction master plan on earthquake management but Dhaka.

"We have a draft plan but it has been lying at a preliminary stage for long, as its progress has been stalled because of fund constraint," said Sadeque, also senior vice president of Bangladesh Earthquake Society.

According to sources, recently the EMI and UNDP have agreed to seek partnership with the government of Bangladesh to develop an earthquake disaster reduction project for Dhaka.

Dense urban areas remain vulnerable to earthquakes without a policy of preparedness. PHOTO: Syed Zakir Hossain