3RD Round Table Discussion : SOCIO-ECONOMIC IMPACT OF EARTHQUAKE IN BANGLADESH

Allow me to start our Round Table Discussion on Earthquake risk in Bangladesh. This is 3rd session of our series discussion on this issue. You all know Earthquake has become an important topic of talk in our country. Recent two shakes made us more anxious than ever. We have noticed lot of publicity by electronic printed media. Different angle of thoughts came out from professionals/ experts which sometimes differed a lot from each other. I am afraid, such differences made our citizens more anxious. This is the ground for FPD to launch this series, which we like to carry on and conclude through a scientific seminar and publication. I like to invite all of you present here to put your opinions free and frankly so that we can get some in-depth knowledge about this issue. I ask our moderator Kazi Anisuddin Iqbal to let start the session.

Held on: October 02, 2010

Venue: Sheltech Lounge, Sheltech Tower, 55 B U Kazi Nuruzzaman Road, Dhaka 1205.

The Participants:

  1. Toufiq. M. Seraj,Chairman, Forum For Physical Development (FPD), Managing Director, Shelteck Pvt. Limited;
  2. Architect Kazi Anisuddin Iqbal,Executive Director, FPD; Chairman, Building For Future Ltd.
  3. Engineer Tanveerul Haque Probal,Finance Director, FPD, Ex-President, REHAB; Managing Director, Building For Future Ltd.;
  4. Mashih Malik Chowdhury,Treasurer, Bangladesh Economic Association
  5. Shamima Akter, Joint Chief, Planning Commission
  6. Monju Ara Begum,Deputy General Manager, B.S.C.I.C
  7. Abdus Salam,Senior Research Engineer, Housing & Building Research Institute;
  8. Maliha Ferdous,Disaster Management Officer, International Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies;
  9. A.K.M. Habibur Rahman, Managing Director, Roots Builders Ltd.;
  10. Fazlul Rahman, Managing Director, Britania Properties Ltd.

The Supporting Participants:

  1. Muhammad Ariful Islam, Research Coordinator, Forum For Physical Development (FPD)
  2. Nazmul Ahsan, Research Officer, Forum For Physical Development (FPD)
  3. Nilima Nasrin, Research Officer, Forum For Physical Development (FPD)
  4. Mamun Chowdhury, Research Officer, Forum For Physical Development (FPD)

Architect Kazi Anisuddin Iqbal

People of Bangladesh is now highly concerned about Earthquake and its related risks. Whenever any person get a chance to talk with an engineer or an architecture, his immediate question is when it coming, how about our buildings in the city. In one aspect, such tension makes people conscious about Building safety issues, on other, it may create lot of frustration. We all understand that the question is not only regarding the buildings and physical infrastructure. That type of event has huge impact on social and economic structure of the country. We know our subject in vast and we have to learn a lot. So we divided the discussions in a series, each of them with a viva board like today we call it “Socio-Economic Impact of Earthquake in Bangladesh”. It happened in previous sessions that our guests naturally stepped into other related issues and we don’t want to confine it. Here we are recording all you say, so we will be able to retrieve their points. We made this head line for this session to get some knowledge regarding our present preparation status which will be addition to the Engineering aspects. I shall request our guests and participants to render your views and suggestion in this aspect.

Dr. Toufiq M. Seraj

At the beginning, I like to put an idea which may seem irrelevant with the head line, but still I take th e chance before forgetting it.

In Dhaka city, almost one building is being demolished in each month. So if the building is handed over to BUET before demolition, the BUET research team can do different sorts of tests and research. For example, artificial earthquake can be created through artificial shaking to see how much stress the building can bear. In addition, through this research many data and information regarding earthquake, we may get which is very inadequate in our country. Such data can give us knowledge about the existing buildings. Developers may have to wait for a little while but they should not have any objection as there will be no serious financial impact on the project.

Mashih Malik

Thanks to FPD for organizing such discussions. I don’t have a serious engineering study on Earthquake, but I am curious. I follow the news and here I like to say some of the news which may help all of us to concentrate on the impact and it may also reveal how less casualty can occur if a country is prepared for that. Now I am going to give some example of EQ occurred in the past.

In May 12, 2008 an earthquake occurred at 7.9 Richter scale at Sichuan, China. On that disaster, 70 thousand people died, 2 lac and 75 thousand injured, 20 thousands were missing and about 5 lacs people were homeless.

In 1990, Sumatra, Indonesia, due to earthquake 2, 27,898 people died. Lately, on January 12, 2010, another earthquake hit the country at the same region.

Recently, the most terrific earthquake occurred in Haiti after 1860. It’s Richter scale were 7, depth 13 km. About 2 lacs and 30 thousand people died. Many important buildings collapsed. Because, In Haiti, buildings were constructed considering only vertical load while designing, horizontal load was not considered.

1868, North California, Richter scale 6.7, it is anticipated that another earthquake like that may hit in 2032 and due to this earthquake, many people will die. According to forecast, about 90% of the existing buildings will be damaged and nearly a worth of 120 billion US Dollar in monetary terms will be lost.

If it turns to be an earthquake of 7.8 in Richter scale, then 53 thousand people will die and economic loss will be upto $213 billion.

In the Earthquake of Japan, financial loss was 37 trillion yen and 10 thousand people died, If there were sufficient preparedness, the loss would get down to nearly 31 trillion Yen and the number of death would be about 2500.

Impact assessment of Earthquake is very difficult. In our country, there is not enough preparatory arrangements. There are 26 million households in the entire country. Population in Dhaka city is nearly one crore and fifty lacs. Total households are 25 lacs in the capital.

Old Dhaka is more vulnerable to Earthquake. So loss of property and life will happen more here due to Earthquake. We have disaster management experience in the field of flood, cyclone etc. But there is lack of experience regarding earthquake.

Shamima Akter

Though Earthquake is an old issue, still there is no adequate preparation regarding it. As a citizen I would like to share my views now with you. Our economy is agri-based. About 80% people live in rural area. So it should not be the right way to consider only the urban dwellers ignoring the huge portion of rural population for any disaster management planning. So, at first previous studies and the upcoming ones regarding earthquake have to be compiled. Because these information and primary data will be very useful to develop a well integrated disaster plan. I think, it will also be a milestone. Government should also patronize such initiatives.

If we see around our neighboring countries, their Research and Development (R&D) wing is very strong. They have a well arranged R&D fund. But in our country R&D is very weak. So this sector has to be strong enough. I like to thank FPD for their effort, hope they can go a long way and really give the nation some valuable intellectual resources. To my knowledge there was no new town planning ever produced after Madani, i.e, Master plan of 1954. That’s why, our development activities have been done haphazardly. We can see countless buildings are coming up without covering the issues of service facilities. To face disaster, the city must have adequate roads and accessibility. Government alone can not do anything and the problem aggravated so much with time and so many issues are involved a quick bough off is impossible.

Architect Kazi Anisuddin Iqbal

Some of us present here are well known developers. We know our limitations, as like govt, we also can not throw out the problems we face with a stroke. Here are some inputs. After the Master Plan of Dhaka which we call Master plan of  59 there was long gap. In 1980, as suggestive strategic plan was produced by stakeholder and Cox, funded by UNDP which was not taken for implementation, again in 1996 another strategic plan was made which we call now DMDP which was enacted in 1992. DMDP is now considered as the rule, but design life time of this plan is also expired. Detail area plan was part of that strategy which is made recently which we can expect to be implemented.

Our concentration was mainly on flood and cyclone which are regular phenomena, with time we also have a reasonable degree of infrastructure made by government and private initiatives. Earthquake threat has appeared acute recently. Government will take initiatives in that respect. You know it’s a long and multi-dimensional process.

Dr. Toufiq M. Seraj

In last 25 to 30 years, a private sector has been working in our Real Estate development. So it will not be fair to make responsible them for the problems created before that. The  59 master paln was not a complete one and it was subject to review on every 5 year, which was never done; its life time was 20 years. In 1980 it appeared that many of the projections were not current. The review process was in the land of then DIT, later you can see the DMDP also was not implemented in time. People are coming to Dhaka city, for jobs, for education, for medical treatment, for business. For all purpose Dhaka became the centre of all activities of the country. Entrepreneurs do not want to establish their factories in other towns because there is shortage of electricity, there is lack of security and many other problems. All these were to be dealt by the Govts. Such unprecedented hike also created huge demand for housing. Private sector developers have come forward to make up that. They are to work within the laws implied by the Government. Anybody not following the rules, Government may take action against that. Developers are not making the rules. However, here we are professionals, planners, engineers, architects, sociologists, economists and many others in this platform; we are involved in different business for our living. But one thing is now common to us, we are concerned with the future of this country. As we are participating in this discussion, we are showing our attitude to act positively. FPD is created to support the thoughts and cautions of our professionals from this country. Let’s go back to our discussion again.

Monju Ara Begum

Earthquake is such a disaster about which forecasting is very difficult. Then again if you install a good forecasting system, you need an efficient mechanism which can act according to needs. So in this respect, I want to put some recommendations/guidelines which can be helpful. These are as follows:

Future program plan and realistic activities are required to run for assessing the post earthquake properly loss and addressing the destructive impact on people. According to it, proper budget should be allocated.

Vulnerable structures have to be rebuilt and should be resistant to earthquake

In our country, there is no definite system for rescue operation after the occurrence of earthquake. Also, there is no mechanical system for immediate removal of the damaged things. In this regard, necessary steps should be taken.

For a proper rescue operation, a separate squad of trained workers form ‘Civil Defense’ and ‘Fire Brigade’ has to be formed.

Training has to be provided on the issues of disconnecting gas, electricity line of high-rise buildings and using of Fire fighting equipments when an earthquake will occur.

Mass media and electronic media can play a significant role through the awareness raising program about what to do in earthquake situation.

From a report of BUET, it is seen that 43% of total area of Bangladesh is in high risk, 41% is in mid risk and rest 16% falls in low risk zone. So steps should be taken giving most emphasis on this information.

Disaster management ministry has purchased modern tools and equipments of Tk. 69 crore for post earthquake rescue operation. Later equipment of more 164 crore taka will be purchased. 60 thousands volunteers will be trained all over the country. But this number is very inadequate for the entire country. So more volunteers have to be trained. NGOs and other volunteers should participate in such programs.

Built buildings should be made earthquake resistant and old/ ill constructed buildings should be demolished. It is also be ensured that people will follow building code regulations while building their structure.

Building construction in and around Dhaka city’s water bodies must be strictly prohibited.

Research works on earthquake have to be emphasized. For this reason, required budget is to be allocated.

Whenever any disaster happens or we see some threat, people of country usually take initiatives for immediate recovery. For earthquake preparation, we need long term plan and a very sincere continuous effort. I understand FPD will also publish some recommendations as said by your chairman, but I also have the doubt whether there will be any kind of practical progress as follow through.

 Md. Abdus Salam

We can anticipate the impact of earthquake. So preparation before an earthquake occurrence is very important to reduce the damage level. Now it is needed to make sure that all new construction will maintain standard and quality to avoid infrastructural damage.

It is mandatory to provide training for the people who are concerned with all types of construction works; specially training should be given to the concerned professionals and workers. The unskilled construction workers like masons, rod binders- such important workers should be trained up in terms of advanced construction materials, technology so that they can do their job using their knowledge and skill. Same as, the people who supervise, is also to be trained up.

Some experts say, mild earthquake release the stress which lessen the probability of strong earthquake occurrence. Again, another group of experts say that mild earthquakes are the indication of future strong earthquake. Hence likelihood of strong earthquake incidence is growing. So these contradictory comments are making the general people confused.

We have to think about the safety of people occupied in rescue operation of post earthquake.

So, emphasis should be given upon mitigation and preparedness of earthquake situation. At present the people who have built houses with support of Housing and Research Institute, have been trained up regarding earthquake awareness.

Kazi Anisuddin Iqbal: From Building Research Institute, you mean you are providing training on good construction and also make them aware of the disaster risk, am I correct?

Abdus Salam: yeas, we have taken an attempt to do a 5 days’  workshop to render training the home owners who are building their own houses. And each group is comprised of 260 home owners.

We have experienced structural designers in the country but at field level the implementation is very poor. There is no provision of certification to masons. So training in basic level is very much essential to obtain quality of work. Poor condition of building is due to ignoring the building code 1993. But the hopeful matter is that a major revision of Building code- 93 is being done. Almost 40 consultants are involved in this revision. We are going to get the revised version within January- February, 2011.

An extensive national workshop with be arranged on it. Government policy and environmental issues like rain water harvesting, green coding etc will get priority in the workshop.

Maliha Ferdous

Already all discussed about economic loss due to earthquake. So if an earthquake hits the country, how more initiatives we have to take, is a considerable issue. Suppose, a strong earthquake strikes, a huge chaos will be created. Law and order situation will be collapsed. Then, women, children and old people will feel insecure.

Considering all the facts, International Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies has taken an attempt to disseminate 50 thousand leaflets among the mass people in order to raise awareness.

Kazi Anisuddin Iqbal: Sometimes, leaflets create panic among the people. How does it work?

Maliha Ferdous: Mass people are the target. This attempt has been taken to raise awareness, increase preparedness. Assisting the affected people is not limited only by giving food and water now. Rather preparedness is a big issue to encounter the disaster. So we are providing all the assistance to them so that the victim of earthquake may recover the crisis as soon as possible. Training is also provided for Search & Rescue for the post disaster period. We have prepared nearly 6200 volunteers in Dhaka, Chittagong, Sylhet and Rangpur.

Earthquake occurs hardly. So in many times, people do not want to see it as a Hazard. Moreover, the prevalent problems like traffic jam, water logging etc are more important to the people. So what they read in leaflet or what they were taught in training may erode from their mind, that’s why, routine drill of trained people is needed.

Dr. Toufiq M.Seraj

Command head quarters of Red Crescent and other disaster management institutions must be kept risk free at first. Most of our district govt. offices are also old; such vulnerable structures should be identified. Even the hospitals and other public buildings where people can take shelter are not risk free.

Habibur Rahman

Some negative impacts have been created due to earthquake. People become pessimistic in terms of sense of responsibility, sense of acceptability. The reasons of such mentality matter of great concern. There are many perimeters responsible for this situation. Firstly, there is very few efforts from government. Secondly, people have less faith on the views of intellectuals. Lastly the tendency is growing to transfer the responsibility to Government instead of doing by self.

So some effective guidelines are required to solve the existing situation.

Co-ordination between Government and private bodies should be increased.

It will be effective to have a quality control cell of REHAB for monitoring.

There should be an agency to assess the degree of risk in terms of preparedness for any disaster.

Fazlur Rahman

I have reasonable experience in large construction in Bangladesh. Throughout my work I observed that we are not very keen for controlling the quality. The structural designers may calculate the lateral loads or any other as needed while designing and also made the details and show in the drawings, but if the construction people at site neglect then everything becomes futile. When you make a large project, you are spending lot of money; you will not take risk of any damage for savings of penny. You may try to save in finishing materials, but will not dare to save from quantity of steel or cement. So for private sector large construction, I can say, chance of compromise in structure from the point of expenditure will be rare. But during construction, sometimes problems occur in workmanship. You must understand, buildings are permanent assets and damage of them is loss of national wealth. If you employ inexperienced, unskilled manpower in construction, your risk may be too high. Smaller construction is more risky as they cannot afford to have all the facilities and equipment due to budget constraints.

We had a Testing Lab during the construction of Bashundhara City which was superior to BUET facilities at that time. We had a trained team to monitor every point and you know we could afford that as it was a big budget. So if you don’t get ready testing support for small projects, you can’t make sure the standard. We should make more Testing facilities available. It’s not only we should talk about construction, we must think about the manufactured product quality used in the buildings. For instance, some manufacturers change the copper percentage in the electrical cables in order to get benefitted. These cables are too dangerous t get short-circuit due to ill cable quality in a disaster situation. How to check them; we have two organizations; one is BUET another is BSTI, we should think for more of them.

My previous speakers also emphasized on training, I vote them and also add there, the engineers should have hands on training. Knowing the books is not enough. Our technical education should be reviewed to make our base more solid.

Lastly, I thank FPD, I hope, your effort will be fruitful as you wish.

Tanveerul Haque Probal

I am here to listen as I am one of the core persons of FPD. Yet I am an engineer and a developer. I think, it’s time to be smart. What happened in the past, we can’t revert it but if we try we can make better. Yes. We must analyze the past to rectify future mistakes. We all understand, if a disaster comes, may be earthquake or in any other form, our nation will have unbearable loss. We can assume the financial losses, at least make a sketch, but if we consider the social impact, it will appear unimaginable. Here we got some ideas for what to do, if we become serious about them, we will be able to proceed. Government effort can’t run alone, our private sector is rising. If initiatives are taken by hand in hand, our program will be faster.

Architect Kazi Anisuddin Iqbal

It’s my duty to thank you all to finish this session, but I don’t think, I hold the capacity to do that. It appears that it has just started; we are showing our concern to our society, our nation. We are looking for a safe habitat for our coming generations. As discussed here, we all know some of the points; we will think positively and make our point on the path of developing the nations. Disaster is not new to us, whenever it came, we all became united and faced it, we will do that again. I remind you it was our third session. We will have several more. We have a commitment to publish your views and we will do that soon. In this series, Bangladesh Earthquake Societies is with us, we are working together to have a final seminar in which we hope to give the nation a reasonable view point about Earthquake risks in Bangladesh.

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