Lessons from Turkey: How to make India earthquake prepared

Source– The post is based on the article “Lessons from Turkey: How to make India earthquake prepared” published in The Indian Express on 2nd March 2023.

Syllabus: GS3- Disaster management

Relevance: Earthquake induced disasters

News- The destruction caused by earthquakes in Turkey should be alarming for us.

Nearly 58% of the Indian landmass is vulnerable to earthquakes. Geologists have warned of a probable massive earthquake in the Himalayan state.

What are the main components of India policy on earthquake and issues related to the policy?

India’s policy on earthquake preparedness operates primarily at the scale of structural details. It is guided by the National Building Codes. This includes specifying dimensions of columns, beams and details of the reinforcements that join these elements together.

It ignores the buildings that were constructed before such codes were published in 1962. Such buildings form a large part of our cities.

It assumes infallibility in the processes of enforcement. It relies only on penalisation and illegalities.

It treats earthquakes as a problem of individual buildings. It assumes that buildings exist and behave in complete isolation from their urban context.

The truth is that buildings exist in clusters and in the event of an earthquake, behave as a system. They collapse on nearby buildings and on the abutting streets.

What are the interventions needed to improve the preparedness of the country for earthquakes?

At individual building level- There is a need to create a system of retrofitting existing structures and enforcing seismic codes with more efficiency.

Such a policy should include two measures- (1) To create a system of tax-based or development rights-based incentives for retrofitting one’s building up to seismic codes. This  will enable the growth of an industry around retrofitting and will generate a body of well-trained professionals and competent organisations.

2) By ensuring better enforcement of seismic codes through a similar model. The National Retrofitting Programme was launched in 2014 is a step in that direction. The RBI directed banks to deny loans for any building activity that does not meet the standards of earthquake-resistant design.

Japan is a good example in this case. It has invested heavily in technological measures to mitigate the damage from the frequent earthquakes that it experiences.

Skyscrapers are built with counterweights and other high-tech provisions to minimise the impact of tremors. Small houses are built on flexible foundations and public infrastructure is integrated with automated triggers that cut power, gas, and water lines during earthquakes.

At urban-level– The policy should start with surveys and audits that can generate earthquake vulnerability maps. These maps show the parts of the city that are more prone to serious damage.

This should follow four criteria- (1) The percentage of vulnerable structures in the area. (2) The availability of evacuation routes and distances from the nearest open ground. (3) Density of the urban fabric. (4) Location of nearest relief services and the efficiency with which these services can reach affected sites.

Using such maps, enforcement, incentives, and response centres can be proportionally distributed across the urban terrain.

A policy on earthquake preparedness will require a visionary, radical and transformative approach.

Some areas such as dense historic city centres will still be beyond repair. They will require either surgical retrofitting or revised town planning schemes.

What are challenges in executing these interventions?

Surgical retrofitting is unreliable and the revised town planning schemes are politically suicidal.

People across time and space have been in denial of such threats. Therefore, political will is lacking to execute such transformations. Earthquakes are not seen as a fatal threat.

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