Coping with probable post earthquake situation
Bangladeshis have been receiving information over at least the last two years that a major earthquake is imminent for this country. As it is, scientist say that major earthquakes have periodic cycles and the last one that hit Bangladesh occurred a long time ago. So, the next one has been overdue.
The projections about the imminence of earthquakes in Bangladesh have been there for some years. There is nothing that can be done-given the present scientific or technological capacities-to frustrate or foil an earthquake from happening anywhere in the world. Earthquakes cannot be also predicted in time . But certainly adequate preparedness can help save lives and mitigate other sufferings.
In the Bangladesh context, there have been overdoses of discussions and seminar mongering centred on earthquakes. But not enough action-oriented programmes followed from the same to contribute towards building adequate preparedness. But the need for preparedness is far greater in Bangladesh than many other countries .
However, it is heartening to note that the present Bangladesh government has launched an Urban Earthquake Resilience Project. A modest amount of assistance to it has been pledged by the World Bank (WB) but clearly there is a need to bolster this programme in every sense at the fastest.
First of all, it should be noted that Bangladesh’s capital city, Dhaka, is too poorly planned when it remains identified as a city having high risks of facing earthquakes. But it holds a lion’s share of the country’s total wealth. Hence the great importance of specially protecting it.
Specialists in the field say that as much as 50 per cent of buildings in Dhaka could turn into rubble from a high intensity earthquake lasting half a minute or so. Besides, it would pose very great difficulties to work for recovery of human victims and removal of shattered concrete or building materials amid the many too congested areas of the city.
Presently, there is no fine tuned central plan or command mechanism or structure to act with utmost speed in a post earthquake situation at Dhaka city. No one needs to emphasize why there should be such a centralized and ready mechanism in place. It is so obvious. Bangladesh, as one of the poorest countries of the world, cannot simply afford to allow maximization of the shattering effects on resources and loss of lives from earthquakes.
It should have an operational plan and adequate capacities under it to limit the destructive consequences of earthquakes for the simple reason that it would be only economically sensible to do so. Therefore, any expenditure on earthquake preparedness should be seen as a prudential investment designed to enhance the country’s economic security as a whole.
Annual national budgets need to regularly provision adequate funds to build up capabilities for earthquake preparedness. Citizens very probably will not mind paying taxes for this purpose if they realise that the same would be spent well on their safety and security.
What can be the essential constituents of such a centralized mechanism to go to work the moment a major earthquake strikes ? There have been lots of suggestions made about building up capabilities to remove rubble and other massive debris from collapsed buildings and other infrastructures should an earthquake hit Dhaka or any of the major cities. But the availability of special equipment such as heavy cranes for operation amid a post earthquake scenario, are still considered to be meager. Specially needed are squads of well trained persons in good number from the civil and military forces, plus volunteers, who can be mobilized and put into service-immediately-to make good use of their expert training in a post earthquake situation.
It is imperative to educate people in greatest number through regular publicities in the mass media about this need and what other good practices they must learn and execute while experiencing an earthquake. Also, it may be considered to devise a system to turn off power and gas centrally any time an earthquake would be felt.