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The ignorance blighting disaster zone rebuilds


IGNORANCE DURING reconstruction following major disasters in impoverished earthquake regions is jeopardising millions of lives experts warned this week.

Java has joined the many earthquake-hit areas struggling to get back to normality following the 6.3 magnitude disaster last month, which killed more than 6,000 people, injured 30,000 and displaced 650,000.

But experts fear those involved in the reconstruction of disaster-hit areas across the world do not have sufficient knowledge of seismic construction techniques to prevent a repeat of the fatal damage caused when buildings and structures collapse.

Institution of Structural Engineers Earthquake Engineering Field Investigation Team (EEFIT) member Dr Navin Peiris told NCE that organisations funding rebuilds are failing to employ basic earthquake-resistant designs.

'NGOs and the World Bank are failing to take a proactive role. They don't have experience of seismic engineering - the knowledge is missing, ' he said.

EEFIT analyses damage and makes recommendations on reconstruction following earthquakes and has sent teams to investigate damage all over the world.

The rebuilds currently underway in Aceh following the tsunami in 2004 and in Pakistan after the October 2005 earthquake are setting worrying precedents for the reconstruction in Java, Peiris said.

But World Bank housing expert George Soraya, who led the rebuild program in Aceh and is now working on the Java rebuild, said that earthquake resistance would be designed in to new structures.

'We are supporting the government to develop a building code that will ensure all houses being reconstructed will comply with earthquake resistant specifications, ' he said.

However, a report on reconstruction in Aceh by Arup for charity Muslim Aid, published earlier this year, highlights the same shortfall in knowledge.

Arup associate and chair of the Society for Earthquake & Civil Engineering Dynamics Zygi Lubkowski co-wrote the report and said more education was needed on three levels to solve the problem.

He said that people who lived in the rebuilt houses needed to know how to recognise quality work. Contractors needed to be educated on correct construction techniques, such as rebar layout and concrete quality. And governments, NGOs and lending bodies needed to know what is required in these regions to advise contractors.

Basic construction techniques recommended in the report included linking together foundations to ensure houses settled as a single entity in the case of liquefaction; ensuring that windows and doors were symmetrical in elevation; and not constructing buildings too close together.

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