Building codes saves lives – main message on anniversary of Chile earthquake and lesson learned from NZ

Source(s): United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction

Geneva – Strict building codes in Chile, the legacy of a devastating 9.5 magnitude earthquake in 1960, continue to play a large part in protecting people even when an 8.8 magnitude earthquake struck 50 near Concepcion on 27 February 2010, says UNISDR.

The 7.0 magnitude earthquake of 12 January, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, which struck closer to the surface than in Chile, was however, no match for the homes and buildings of that city; around 70 per cent of them collapsed killing over 200,000 thousand people.

And last week’s earthquake in New Zealand underscores the need for strict adherence to building codes and for risks to be well-assessed before city infrastructure is committed and built. Disaster modelling experts estimate that industry insured losses could reach over $8 billion. Prime Minister John Key told the press that the overall cost of the February 22 and the September 4 quakes combined would be about $15-billion.

“In earthquake zones, three factors affect our degree of risk: changes to our natural environment, the quality of the built environment around us, and whether awareness and knowledge is widespread enough for us to modify our behaviour in response to these factors,” said Margareta Wahlström, the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction. “The key to surviving high magnitude quakes is to live and work in seismically safe buildings, while being aware of how nature around us can also change.”

In Christchurch, New Zealand, last week, hundreds perished in collapsed buildings due to the earthquake on 24 February, which occurred in the middle of a busy workday. Surveyors said afterwards that soil liquefaction -- in which soil loses stiffness due to the earth’s shaking -- had a profound effect on buildings, raising the importance of conducting risk assessments before construction. On the first day alone, the death count reached nearly 100, with emergency rescue workers toiling through the week to dig out hundreds more who were feared trapped in the rubble.

Disasters are costly both in terms of lives and economic impact. Insurance companies have had to pay higher amounts to their reinsurers because of the recent spate of disasters, which encompass the New Zealand earthquake as well as the floods that occurred in Australia last month. The damage from the quake is also likely to stymie growth in the New Zealand economy, said to be on the brink of recession before it struck.

“After an earthquake, heavy rainfall or a spate of cold weather may pose additional hazards,” added Ms. Wahlström.

In less than 70 days, the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction will host the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, the world’s foremost gathering of actors in disaster risk reduction in Geneva, Switzerland, from 8-13 May. Over 2,000 participants ranging from Heads of State, Ministers, representatives of non-governmental organizations and other actors will discuss how to increase investment for local action.

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