Earthquake preparedness: Bangladesh perspective
Dr. Forqan Uddin Ahmed, Former Deputy General and Commandant, Ansar VDP Academy
In the global context, earthquake stands as the number one natural disaster in terms of damage, destruction and loss of life and property. About 60% of the world casualties associated with natural disaster are caused by earthquake. On average, the world experiences about one million earthquakes a year, among which 20 are sufficiently violent to destroy a habitable area. Average global records indicate that 1 very large event, (M>8) 10 medium (m>7) and 100 moderate earthquakes occur annually.
We must prepare ourselves to survive and steps must be taken to understand and quantify the earthquake problem, build structures capable of resisting earthquake forces and develop early warning, monitoring, as well as post disaster mitigation systems. Preparedness measures include the formulation of viable disaster plans, the maintenance of resources and the training of personnel.
The occurrence of earthquakes is part of the earth’s natural geophysical system. Under the present stage of scientific development, it is not possible to stop such natural events, and even if it was possible to do so, we should not interfere with the internal systems of the planet. However, understanding the characteristics of internal geophysical processes of the earth and possibility of its forecasting as well as preparedness can considerably reduce the casualties from such incidents.
Bangladesh has tremendously improved its management and mitigation measures of natural disasters like cyclones and floods, but the strategies regarding earthquake have remained nearly in its infant stage. Earthquake mitigation and management issues can be incorporated within the existing disaster management program of the government, ranging from National Disaster Management Council to Union Disaster Management Committee. Moreover, procurement of instruments required for rescue operations must get top priority in the management agenda. Proper training to be arranged for community level, voluntary organizations and NGOs to motivate and increasing of people’s awareness can reduce the casualties from any earthquake incident considerably. It is thus immediately necessity to upgrade and improve the existing earthquake measurement station at Ambagan in Chittagong and complete the two other proposed stations at Dinajpur and Sylhet.
Moreover, construction of new buildings should strictly follow the national buildings codes 1993. The enforcement of law and order and development of peoples’ awareness have no alternatives. Earthquake vulnerability of any place largely depends on its geology and topography, population density, building density, quality and the coping strategy of its people. It is thus necessary to identify the scale of such variations and take necessary measurements to cope with these.
An earthquake atlas is the presentation of facts relating to earthquakes and the guideline for earthquake mitigation measurements at regional scale in the form of maps, graphics picture and text. Such an atlas provides clear guidelines to post disaster rescue operation, regional scale mitigation strategies and stepwise disaster management activities. However, we do not have any such atlas either at national level, nor a regional level. It is the timely demand to prepare an Earthquake Vulnerability Assessment Atlas of Bangladesh for the major cities in particular. Nevertheless, large scale mitigation measurements need huge initial investment. But to serve human lives and property, we should not hesitate to do so.
Developments of awareness program educate people regarding the causes and consequences of earthquakes. And also to disseminate knowledge to them regarding their responsibilities before, during and after the earthquake through seminar, symposium and workshop and also through non-formal education by Go and NGOs.
The governments’ concerned organization alone is not enough to prepare the countrywide population in this regard. Communities and individuals must involve themselves in discharging the responsibilities of facing this challenges as well as respond rapidly and effectively to disaster situations. Unless these measures are taken seriously and given adequate priority, the preparedness in a country like Bangladesh to face the earthquakes would remain far from reality.