We need to be ready for earthquakes
Human brains are not wired to appreciate the gravity of distant problems. As a species, we live from day to day, or from decade to decade at most. In Dhaka, where threats to one's life or wellbeing are a daily reality, it may seem difficult to prepare for threats like a single catastrophic event in the distant future. Yet, this is what we need to do now, especially if we want to minimise the damage of any major earthquake. Such a threat in Dhaka may be nearer than you think, and as per a new study by Rajuk, if it comes to pass, it will leave an unimaginable trail of destruction.
Conducted over four years with the assistance of World Bank, the study is the first major scientific assessment of earthquake vulnerability in Bangladesh. A Prothom Alo report based on its findings says that Dhaka is indeed vulnerable to major earthquakes. And if an earthquake of 6.9 magnitude occurs along the Madhupur faultline, which is very close to Dhaka, about 8,65,000 buildings will be demolished. If it occurs during the day, about 2,10,000 people will die, and 2,29,000 more will be injured. The financial loss to be incurred will also be huge, to the tune of $25 billion, in addition to $44 billion in rebuilding costs.
Astonishing as they may sound, there is no disputing the numbers released by earthquake experts. As the most crowded city in the world, Dhaka is naturally a highly risky zone when it comes to disasters – natural or man-made. Add to that its unsafe buildings, often constructed without following building codes or by filling up wetlands. Most of them are not earthquake-resistant, and remain poorly maintained, leading to several fires and explosions in recent weeks. As well as lack of awareness and greed on the part of building owners, Rajuk itself is majorly responsible for the region's unplanned urbanisation or the sorry state of many residential/commercial buildings.
In such a situation, earthquake is but one of the many threats facing residents. As per the new study, even a major earthquake along the Dawki faultline in Sylhet – the second of the two faultlines on which Bangladesh rests – will also have a devastating effect on Dhaka. In that case, at least 40,935 buildings will be demolished, while 16,000 people will be killed. The level of threat that Dhaka faces is stupefying, just as the level of indifference still being shown by those in charge of it.
While the massive humanitarian crisis that has recently unfolded in Turkey and Syria following a 7.5 magnitude earthquake may have alarmed many about our own lack of earthquake preparedness, whether it will lead to meaningful action remains to be seen. After all, historically, we have spent much more on responding to natural disasters than we have on reducing the risk of them. Experts have cautioned against this tendency this time, saying the minor tremors recorded in the last several years may herald a major tremor in the near future.
We must plan and prepare accordingly then, backed by a strong political will. Any action by the authorities, especially Rajuk, must reflect the urgency we face.