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New Delhi ignores own quake peril warnings
Apocalyptic visions aside, city does little to prepare for likely major quake
Question of the Day
Government engineers were sent to California to train. But the following year - with only the school made earthquake-ready - all the engineers were taken off the project.
They were reassigned to build stadiums for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, an athletic competition held in Delhi, said M. Shashidhar Reddy, vice chairman of India’s National Disaster Management Authority.
The scale of the problem “really hasn’t sunk into the minds of the people,” Mr. Reddy said.
Just last year, a Delhi government agency ordered all new homebuyers to get a building-safety certificate that would mark their homes as structurally sound before registering property.
But it later withdrew the order, saying there weren’t enough engineers trained to conduct such inspections.
“That’s like saying let’s not have any traffic rules because we don’t have enough policemen,” said Hari Kumar, who heads GeoHazards International, an organization that promotes earthquake awareness.
India, a still-developing country plagued by corruption, isn’t alone in being unprepared.
More than 80 percent of deaths from building collapses in earthquakes in the past three decades occurred in corrupt and poor countries, according to a 2011 study published in the science journal Nature.
The study, by Roger Bilham, a geologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and Nicholas Ambraseys, a civil and environmental engineer at Imperial College London, compared the loss of life in two magnitude 7.0 earthquakes in 2010. In Haiti, 300,000 died; in New Zealand, none did, though a subsequent 6.1 quake there in early 2011 killed 182.
New Zealand, a developed nation, tied for first as the least corrupt in Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index. Much poorer Haiti came in 175th out of 178 countries.
In Turkey, which ranked 61st, a 2010 report revealed that the earthquake-prone nation had failed to enforce stricter building codes put in place after a 1999 earthquake killed 18,000 people.
Last year, two earthquakes of magnitude 7.2 and 5.7 flattened about 2,000 buildings, killed 644 people and left thousands homeless.
In contrast, Japan, which was 14th on the corruption scale, requires that all structures meet a 1981 building code and offers subsidies to retrofit buildings to meet more stringent guidelines set in 1995. About 75 percent of homes and public buildings meet the newer standards.
In India, which ranked 95th, contractors routinely flout regulations, use substandard material and add illegal floors to buildings while bribing government inspectors to look the other way, said Mr. Reddy, the disaster-management official. A 2001 quake in the western state of Gujarat killed more than 13,000.
Delhi, which sits near a highly seismically active area, is ranked 4 out of 5 on a seismic threat scale used in India.
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