Earthquake: Bangladesh must be prepared for the horror

Published : Tuesday, 14 February, 2023 at 12:00 AM

A substantial danger of moderate to powerful earthquakes, which might cause extensive damage and the death of thousands of people, exists in Bangladesh. In addition, there is a tsunami risk due to the Bay of Bengal’s four active earthquake sources. Bangladesh is ill-equipped to handle any significant earthquake’s aftershocks. According to experts, the country is extremely vulnerable to a catastrophic earthquake due to the five geological fault lines that run across it. The recent earthquake tragedies in Turkey and Syria should serve as a strong warning to the South Asian region that we need to take immediate action to minimize potential damages if such a catastrophe occurs.

Earthquakes are sudden upheavals in the earth’s crust that significantly damage both people and property. The movement and overlaying of the tectonic plates can occur anywhere in the world and are usually unpredictable. Major earthquakes typically start off as small tremors but quickly develop into violent shocks. Massive earthquakes have wiped out countless civilizations over the course of history. Like; the Mayan civilization (800 A.D.); city of Troy (1200 B.C.); Megiddo, also known as Armageddon (1468 B.C.); the Harappan civilization of South Asia (1900 B.C.) etc.

Islam, as a religion, cites some important causes for the earthquakes. Abu Hurairah (R.A.) narrated that the Messenger of Allah, Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) said: �When Al-Fai’ (assets gained from war) is distributed preferentially, trust is a spoil of war, Zakat is a fine, knowledge is sought for other than the(sake of the) religion, a man obeys his wife and disobeys his mother, he is close to his friend and far from his father, voices are raised in the mosque, tribes are led by their wicked, the leader of the people is the most despicable among them, the most honored man is the one whose evil the people are afraid of, singing slave-girls and music spread, intoxicants are drunk, and the end of this Ummah curses its beginning- then anticipate a red wind, earthquake, collapsing of the earth, transformation, Qadhf, and the signs follow in succession like gems of a necklace whose string is cut and so they fall in succession� (Jami at Tirmidhi:2211). These signs are already visible in our societies and can be linked with earthquakes at different parts of the world.

At the intersection of multiple active tectonic plate boundaries sits Bangladesh. Additionally, because of its location at sea level at the head of the largest river delta in the world, it faces both the primary risk of an earthquake and the secondary risks of tsunamis and flooding in the event of an earthquake. Tectonic framework of Bangladesh and adjoining areas indicate that Bangladesh is suited adjacent to the plate margins of India and Eurasia where devastating earthquakes have occurred in the past. There are several tectonic plates surrounding Bangladesh, some of which have recently been the source of earthquakes.

On April 25, 2015, Nepal experienced a strong earthquake with a maximum Richter scale reading of 7.9 and a minimum of 6.6. Bangladesh, India, and China were among the nations in South East Asia that felt the earthquake and the tremors that followed. Six individuals lost their lives and more than 200 others were injured in Bangladesh. Additionally, a number of structures in megacity Dhaka and its surroundings collapsed.

Dhaka is expanding quickly, but urbanization is not well planned. Thousands of multi-story buildings have been constructed in the last few decades without any open spaces, encroaching on the streets and highways. Additionally, the majority of the natural water reservoirs, including ponds and canals, have been surrounded by construction. Building regulations have frequently not been effectively monitored. Hence, Dhaka is susceptible to earthquakes. Consideration of earthquake forces in structural design, city planning and infrastructure development is therefore a prerequisite for future disaster mitigation.

Since the shocks largely failed to discharge the stress that builds up within fault rupture zones, seismic scientists view recent recurring earthquakes of low to medium magnitude as an early warning for a large, perhaps deadly earthquake in the near future. Seismic experts also suspect that if an earthquake with a magnitude 7.0 on the Richter scale occurs in large cities of Bangladesh, there would be a major human tragedy and economic disaster due to the structural failure of many buildings built without the use of proper construction materials and in violation of building codes.

Although the Bangladeshi government has created building codes that include comprehensive recommendations for designing concrete and steel structures that are earthquake resistant, these codes are typically not formally implemented. Here, corruption is a major factor. It is widely considered that many new buildings do not have sufficient provisions for earthquake resilience since there is no effective enforcement mechanism.

According to its vulnerability to earthquakes, Bangladesh can be split into three primary seismic zones. Although it is impossible to predict the time and location of earthquakes with any degree of accuracy because most earthquakes are unpredictable, it is possible to develop a communication system that would allow people to be informed about safety precautions, important information and how to get to a safer location. Additionally, precautions can be taken ahead of an earthquake to prevent harm to people and property.

The Bangladeshi government has taken a variety of measures to improve seismic preparedness.
It includes a variety of activities, such as equipping the Fire Service, Civil Defense, and Armed Forces Division; organizing a sizable volunteer force in major cities; carrying out risk-mapping, zoning, and contingency planning of government departments; conducting research to comprehend the scope of risks, etc. To increase earthquake resilience, there are still a lot of things that should be done right now.

Nothing can stop an earthquake. Therefore, in the pre-earthquake phase, preparedness, mitigation and prevention are concepts to work on. Following a disaster, immediate rescue and relief efforts are required, including temporary refuge from the time of an earthquake until about three months later. Reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts then need to be carried out for a period of roughly six months to three years. Since it is now known that poorly designed buildings�rather than earthquakes�are what actually kill people, lowering building and structure vulnerability will be essential for lowering earthquake risk.

The general population should be made aware of earthquake risk. To teach people how to flee a major earthquake, the government should also organize earthquake demonstrations. In addition, effective management of gas leaks, power supply regulation, firefighting, alternative power generation, wireless communication systems, heavy equipment for clearing debris, and emergency medical facilities are required to deal with earthquake aftermath.

As per the rules of Dhaka Improvement Trust (DIT), the plan of every building is signed by a DIT-approved structural engineer. It should be the responsibility of the structural engineer to monitor if a building is built maintaining the building code. Anyone who signs a plan should be held responsible rather than the builder or developer. The authority should be punished for any faults. The highest building of the country, City Centre at Motijheel, experienced some cracks after a mild earthquake and the building was built jointly by the Dhaka City Corporation. This huge building might not survive the load of high magnitude earthquake along with many other buildings of the city. The approving authority should be held liable for such wrong constructions.

Earthquakes pose a regional threat in addition to a national one. In order to combat the threat of earthquakes, we should not only improve regional collaboration while ensuring that the nation has taken all required precautions for earthquake preparedness. Major earthquakes in our area happen roughly every 100 years, and the present moment falls inside that window.

We are working hard to become a middle-income nation, but that goal could be crushed by an earthquake of a magnitude of 7 or higher. Over 30,000 people have already died and tens of thousands have suffered serious injuries as a result of the recent earthquake in Turkey and Syria. Soon, our region might also experience such a significant shock and thus we should take all reasonable measures to be ready. In the near future, hundreds of lives will be saved if the Bangladeshi government and other relevant parties, including regional partners, take this issue seriously.

–    The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Chief Patron, BangabandhuShishu Kishore Mela

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