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Earthquakes set to bring catastrophe to Third World

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THE RISK of earthquakes devastating cities is growing, despite new developments in knowledge and technology, prominent earthquake engineers warned last week.

'Earthquake risk is growing, not shrinking, and that growth is concentrated in the uncontrolled new settlements of the cities of the third world, ' Cambridge University architectural engineering professor Robin Spence told delegates attending the prestigious Mallet and Milne lecture last week.

'[Third World cities] are made up of millions of small and medium-sized houses, apartment blocks and commercial buildings which have been built without an awareness of the earthquake threat or of how to counter it.' Spence warned that the world's press and political leaders believe that because large earthquakes are inevitable, high death tolls must be an inevitable consequence.

'As engineers and scientists with some knowledge of earthquakes and their effects, we need to challenge that attitude, ' said Spence.

'We understand the threat, and we also have the technical understanding to build in such a way that buildings will not collapse. The current pace of reconstruction in the Third World cities is an opportunity to get things right.'

But he added: 'There is still a need for a big increase in our ability to gather data on the performance of buildings and other structures post earthquake.

'A start could be made by better coordination of international and national reconnaissance teams, so that they collect data across the affected zone in a systematic way.' Spence also told delegates that the industry could learn from public health awareness campaigns that have successfully cut infection and disease through highlighting the dangers.

'If death from infectious diseases can be dramatically reduced by concerted public health campaigns, so too can earthquake casualties; both are entirely avoidable with the technical means at our disposal.' He admitted these changes cannot be made overnight.

'There needs to be a shift of emphasis in development aid towards mitigation as opposed to relief; and efforts at disaster mitigation are frequently frustrated or negated by conict or political instability.

He added: 'We must convince politicians of the need for action, and ally ourselves with groups of individuals who are prepared to campaign for change.

'This will involve engineers and scientists in some unconventional activities and some unusual alliances.'

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