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Pakistan earthquake

The Question

This week's devastating earthquake caused huge numbers of buildings to collapse in Pakistan and India, but was the scale of destruction inevitable?

Sadly, disasters on this scale are totally unavoidable. All we can do collectively is to mitigate the loss of life and facilitate the rapid recovery of the communities affected. We should all consider: 'There but for the grace of God go I' and give generously. Those of us who have the expertise and resources should consider how we can best use them in the service of mankind (and at the same time assuage our consciences).

Philip Norris, 60, managing director, Tutbury The only way to prevent earthquake damage is to build seismically-resistant structures on land which is seismically stable. Poor people such as those in at Muzaffarabad are constrained and forced to build on high risk areas such as those close to rivers (flash flooding risk) and mountain sides (landslides). Uncontrolled addition of floors to buildings in poor areas also increases the risk of damage to property in these areas. Education can help. Basic precautions such as continuous foundations of reinforced concrete, and reinforced masonry walls supporting reinforced concrete floors and timber roofs, can help mitigate the effects of structural damage.

But they will not prevent it.

Mark Meyts, lead engineer, London All residential property should be restricted to two stories high. All public building should be independently supervised during design and construction.

All private building should ensure that the designers, contractors and local authority personnel are strictly liable on the basis of corporate manslaughter. It will not stop deaths occurring but a few 'Nuremburg' type trials might save some in future.

Andrew Worby, 56, civil engineer/solicitor, Bath Earthquake damage is impossible to prevent, but appropriate construction techniques can minimise the effects. A major problem is how to hinder uncontrolled sub-standard building in such earthquake risk areas. This requires political and economic rather than technical solutions.

Mike Paul, 58, senior engineer, Stuttgart, Germany The devastating effects of earthquakes can be exacerbated by: inappropriate use of modern materials in low cost housing in preference to more traditional forms of construction; shoddy workmanship and poor building control; avoidance of earthquake design codes through corruption and unstable shanty developments for the urban poor. Immediate steps should be taken to ban unapproved informal high rise construction and enforce re-adoption of traditional construction materials and structural forms which can prove more earthquake resistant.

Prosecutions and imprisonment of all those found to have profiteered through avoidance of design codes (pursued to the highest levels) should be chased and there needs to be more focus on economic activity and reform to improve the wealth of the poor.

Mat Toy, 40, principal engineer, South East As we cannot prevent the event, we should plan better in building design and locating response resources (skilled personnel, shelter and sanitation equipment) to decrease the consequences of such events in susceptible areas.

Andrew Powell, 42, senior group engineer, Manchester

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