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Seismic strategy


Just over a year ago an earthquake devastated the state of Gujarat in north west India. Damian Arnold returned to the city of Bhuj to see how engineers are masterminding the rebuilding of a shattered region.

Hardly a single building has been rebuilt in Bhuj city which caught the worst of the devastating earthquake which shook Gujarat in January 2001.

When NCEI visited Bhuj shortly after the quake the thriving labyrinth of streets known as the walled city was a sorry pile of rubble with stench of death hanging over it.

Back in Bhuj one year later, the dead are buried, the rubble has gone but in its place are only wide open spaces, with the occasional isolated building still standing, incongruously.

The people of Bhuj, who have since endured a scorching summer followed by the monsoon, are demanding to know why it has taken the government of the state of Gujarat so long to start reconstructing the thousands of properties in the city which were totally destroyed.

Critics claim that the government has let the people down with its sluggish response to a major natural disaster. It has taken nearly a year even to commission a plan to redesign Bhuj's walled city area.

'People can't stay in tents so they have started constructing on their own without permission, ' says prominent local architect Hemant Wala.

A few kilometres from Bhuj, Wala says half the village of Sukpur has already been rebuilt without permission, with locals waiving the government subsidy to which they are entitled. Many of the replacement structures are almost as shoddily constructed as the originals that collapsed, says Wala.

The authorities in Bhuj argue that careful planning has taken priority over bricks and mortar in the first year. This, they argue, will ensure that when the next earthquake strikes - highly likely in a region designated as a seismic zone 5 - similar casualties of 17,000 plus dead and 167,000 injured can be avoided.

Gujarat's post-quake planning started two weeks after the disaster, with the rescue operation still in full flow, when the Gujarat State Disaster Management Agency (GSDMA) was formed to co-ordinate the response to the disaster across up to 40 government agencies. The creation of the GSDMA with the help of -921M of soft loans from the Asian Development and World banks has been widely applauded. But its disaster management apparatus has taken a year to form.

The first decision was to place responsibility for reconstruction with building owners helped, in the absence of housing insurance, by a subsidy on a scale ranging from 90,000 rupees (US-184) for totally collapsed homes to US-61 for those which suffered minor damage. By June all properties had been surveyed, identifying in total 279,000 to be retrofitted and 145,000 to be reconstructed, mainly in the district of Kutch.

Handling of building applications was outsourced to consultants Stup from Bombay and Gherzi Eastern from Calcutta.

By this stage, temporary shelters for the displaced had gone up although many people preferred to fashion their own shacks on the ruins of their homes.

Last May, a contract was signed with consultants to redesign the worst affected urban centres - Bhuj, Bachau, Anjar and Rapar - with wider streets and more open spaces.

Consultation with the community took months and the plans were not accepted by the authorities until the end of year, allowing reconstruction to begin.

In rural areas progress was better, with agreements on rebuilding with 600 of the 900 plus badly damaged villages achieved by last August, including 450 which had been totally destroyed. Government agreements with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to part fund reconstruction meant that by the end of 2001, some 30% of buildings in rural Kutch had been rebuilt.

But critics say that the quality of reconstruction is often suspect. Local architect Heman Twala claims that familiar corrupt building practices are still rife. These include bribes to win jobs and yet more bribes to ensure that the authorities turn a blind eye to shoddy building and cheap materials.

UK engineer Dinesh Patel, who has returned to Gujarat to promote his design guide for building to seismic codes, observes that much of the reconstruction is better than before but still short of the standard needed to withstand an earthquake.

The GSDMA claims that it is boosting the engineering skills base to raise building standards.

Before the earthquake municipal building departments were so depleted that houses would get the nod on a single architectural drawing and what few engineers there were to supervise construction were only diploma qualified.

The GSDMA has since recruited more than 2,700 engineers and 40,000 masons and the National Council for Cement and Building Materials (NCCBM) has been hired to audit the quality of reconstruction.

It readily admits that its engineering force is inadequately trained to oversee what GSDMA call 'the largest housing reconstruction programme in the world today'.

In each town a technical think tank of structural engineering experts has been set up and in the villages engineers have organised workshops to teach local builders earthquake engineering techniques.

The inhabitants have been bombarded with folksy-style pamphlets and posters reminding them of the need to consider the effects of earthquakes when rebuilding their homes. Simple analogies such as a kite show how columns and beams should be tied.

Positive measures have also been put in place for materials.

The creation of 1,000 material banks will give access to good quality building materials at a low cost.

In the meantime, lack of skills has led GSDMA to slow the rebuilding process. Subsidies are being paid in up to three instalments, with engineers signing off each stage of works before the next payment.

And until new building laws are enshrined in law there is a ban on building higher than ground plus one level. This could remain in place for two years.

A vision for long term disaster management in Gujarat is being drafted. The two year US-106M scheme will create disaster preparedness for events such as dam collapses, cyclones and nuclear strikes as well as earthquakes.

Under the plan, being prepared with the help of UK consultant Babtie and Cranfield School of Management, five emergency response centres will be built in Ahmedebad, Surat, Rajkot, Bhuj and Barodo.

At GSDMA's busy offices in the Gujarat state capital of Gandinagar there is a tangible sense of belief that future disasters can be managed to avoid large loss of life, but this conviction will only be tested when the next calamity strikes.

Refusing to Bhuj Remodelling Bhuj city into a model of quake-resistant town planning is proving more difficult than expected. Damian Arnold met the planner in charge of the city's new vision.

The post quake vision for Bhuj, of seismically engineered homes and wide open spaces, is being thwarted by the city's population.

The walled city had around 15,000 properties at an average density of 350 properties per hectare before the earthquake and it was hoped to reduce this to 200 properties per hectare in post quake Bhuj to allow every property access to the streets, which would be widened to accommodate fire engines and to prevent a repeat of last year's chaos when people were crushed in the narrow streets by their crumbling homes coming down on top of them.

The authorities are therefore trying to lure some inhabitants out of the overcrowded centre by offering them housing plots in six relocation sites on the outskirts.

'But not many people want to be relocated out of the city, ' says team leader Bharati Ghodke of Indian consultant Environmental Planning Collaborative (EPC). 'We are offering them 100m 2plots to go out there and they can buy extra land at the very cheap government rate. They will only get 10m 2if they stay in the walled city.'

So, faced with the prospect that the walled city could be almost as densely populated as before the earthquake, EPC was asked by the state of Gujarat's urban development corporation to start all over again on a detailed development plan for the area.

EPC's team is drawing up a database showing the location of each destroyed property.

Then the team can set about reallocating a new but smaller area to the owner. The task is difficult and time-consuming because after the rubble was cleared it was often impossible to see the plot boundaries. 'We are working it out by talking to the owners, ' says Ghodke. 'It's a very contentious process.'

EPC cannot complete the plan until each owner decides whether or not he will relocate or stay in the city which in turn depends on what sort of property they would get. Since August anxious residents have flooded into EPC's offices to go over their options.

'We are producing a plan based on most people staying here, ' says Ghodke, who admits that the plan for the walled city will have to be modified once residents make their final decisions.

Once finalised, it will feed into the overall development plan for Bhuj. The new plan will expand development regulations for property structure, road network and land use zoning over a 56km 2area over the next 10 years.

Space will be made for two new ring roads and six radial roads. Some houses that survived the quake will have to be pulled down to make way, but 'we will try as much as possible to let these buildings remain', says Ghodke.

Home to help UK-based engineers Dinesh Patel, Khimji Pindoria and Devraj Patel were spurred into action when their homeland of Gujarat was reduced to rubble.

Almost exactly one year on, they have written and produced an earthquake engineering guide for local engineers and builders. And early in January they took to the stage in Bhuj city to lecture on repair techniques to 700 field engineers from all over Gujarat.

'These are the people who will be supervising the retrofitting to buildings and they will get most use out of this guide, ' said Dinesh Patel who is an associate at Arup Geotechnics. 'It is made up of simple earthquake engineering techniques and it shouldn't take too long to train people up to use them.'

The team members all have close family ties to the region and the Gujarat State Disaster Management Agency (GSDMA) gave an enthusiastic welcome to their Repair and strengthening guide for earthquake damaged low rise domestic building in Gujarat.

They were feted on their arrival at the GSDMA offices in the state capital of Gandinagar and lectured to more than 60 engineers including 40 chief engineers summoned from all over the region.

The GSDMA has produced its own repair and reconstruction guides and recently organised a workshop of international experts whose work will be written up into a compendium to be distributed throughout the region. But Dinesh Patel and his team have still managed to carve out a niche for their guide which was produced in their own time over many months after the quake struck last January.

'Our guide focuses on repair and strengthening of rubble masonry, cut stone, reinforced concrete and low rise domestic buildings, ' says Dinesh Patel, who visited Bhuj shortly after the quake as part of the UK's Earthquake Engineering Field Investigation Team mission.

The guide was produced with the team's inside knowledge of Gujarati building styles and ground conditions which informed the diagrams included within the document.

It gives advice on column jacketing techniques, ties for beams and columns and infill panels between columns for adding shear strength.

Devraj Patel explains how Gujarat-style building needs to change. 'People like big windows because of the heat in the summer but they need to keep them small and away from corners of the building.

Cantilevers are used more in India than anywhere else. They love their balconies but they are dangerous. We need to make sure they are anchored back well into the slab.'

The reconstruction they have observed is of mixed quality, says Dinesh Patel. This includes concrete bands under windows that don't go all the way around the building or column jackets that don't extend into the foundation of the building or are not tied to the beam above.

But things are moving in the right direction. 'We are encouraged by what is happening. The use of lintel and sill bands in so many buildings shows an immense improvement, ' says Khimji Pindoria who runs his own consultancy Pindoria Associates.

Many reconstructed homes are poorly built on the ground floor but show evidence of earthquake engineering techniques on the upper floor, they say, showing the message has been getting through, albeit a little late.

INFOPLUS The guide is available on the Arup website www. arup. com/ geotechnics/html/articles/ designguide. htm

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