Soil tests vi­tal to pro­tect build­ings, say ex­perts

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Front Page - MYAT MOE AUNG my­at­moeaung@mm­

Ge­ol­ogy and con­struc­tion ex­perts urge builders to con­duct soil tests be­fore erect­ing build­ings to en­sure their abil­ity to sur­vive earth­quakes, as the num­ber of quakes in­creases in Myan­mar.

GE­OL­OGY and con­struc­tion ex­perts are urg­ing build­ing com­pa­nies to con­duct soil tests be­fore erect­ing build­ings to en­sure safety amid in­creas­ing earth­quakes.

Gov­ern­ment data show that over 60 earth­quakes struck Myan­mar in 2017 and about 40 the year be­fore.

U Saw Htwe Zaw, vice chair­man of the Myan­mar Earth­quake Com­mit­tee (MEC), said that un­der the coun­try’s Na­tional Build­ing Code, con­struc­tion of new build­ings are not al­lowed un­less soil tests have been con­ducted.

“We know that per­mis­sion is not granted un­less a soil test is con­ducted,” he told par­tic­i­pants at the earth­quake education me­dia fo­rum or­gan­ised by the Myan­mar Red Cross So­ci­ety in Yangon on Tues­day.

“That rule should not be bro­ken,” he said.

The Myan­mar Na­tional Build­ing Code was launched in 2016. It con­tains dis­as­ter-proof de­sign norms for sit­u­a­tions such as earth­quakes, floods, wind storms and land­slides. It also has a map of dis­as­ter-prone ar­eas in the coun­try.

But a par­tic­i­pant at the fo­rum, a teacher from Tech­ni­cal Univer­sity and mem­ber of the Myan­mar Earth­quake Com­mit­tee, said con­struc­tion com­pa­nies do not fol­low the soil tests re­quire­ment.

“Some con­struc­tion com­pa­nies are not fol­low­ing the rules. Be­fore a soil test is com­pleted, they start con­struc­tion,” he said. “They as­sume con­struc­tion can be done safely by look­ing at nearby old build­ings. We ad­vise sys­tem­atic con­struc­tion.”

Soil tests in­clude on site tests, lab­o­ra­tory tests, soil and rock clas­si­fi­ca­tions and quake de­sign based on soil type.

The on-site test in­cludes a re­quired num­ber of bores de­pend­ing on land and space, re­quired depths, test­ing soil type, soil sam­ples, sys- tem­atic record­ing and earth­quake de­sign.

If com­pared to to­tal cost of con­struc­tion, soil test costs con­sti­tute only 0.1 per­cent, so builders should obey the rules. For breaches, some have been sus­pended, said U Tun Naing, a teacher at Tech­ni­cal Univer­sity and a mem­ber of the Myan­mar Earth­quake Com­mit­tee.

“The cost is just a lit­tle, but peo­ple don’t do it. In Myan­mar, builders make only five bores in­stead of 10,” he said.

Only when they work on a base­ment, do they find new soil types un­ex­pect­edly. So, they have to de­mol­ish some parts,” he added, not­ing that if work has to be sus­pended for one month be­cause of the new find­ing, the cost is very high.

U Tun Naing lamented that the gov­ern­ment does not have a strong in­spec­tion team to en­force the build­ing code.

He noted that dur­ing the 1930 earth­quake in Bago Re­gion, some 50 peo­ple died and sev­eral struc­tures were dam­aged in Yangon.

“We have to ac­cept the pos­si­bil­ity that it could hap­pen again,” U Tun Naing said. “When 50 ca­su­al­ties at that time is con­verted to to­day’s equiv­a­lent, it will be­come a huge num­ber.”

“Myan­mar has dif­fer­ent kinds of quake-caus­ing faults,” he warned.

U Myo Thant, vice-chair­man of the MEC, said that re­cent earth­quakes are like ring­ing alarms.

“The main thing is, strong earth­quakes are oc­cur­ring. We are lucky that they are oc­cur­ring in ru­ral places where it is not crowded,” said U Myo Thant.

One of the main wor­ries of the ex­perts is the Sa­gaing fault, where strong quakes hap­pened in 1929 and twice in 1930. The fault has re­mained quiet for nearly nine decades.

“Our build­ing al­ways shakes, even when a truck passes by, so I have never no­ticed re­cent quakes. For peo­ple like us who hap­pen to live on such soft soil, of­fi­cials from the town­ship or or­gan­i­sa­tions should ad­vise us how to pre­pare,” a 50-year old woman in Thaketa said.

Among the town­ships in Yangon Re­gion that have soft soil are Dagon Seikkan, Dala and Thaketa.

A 6.0 mag­ni­tude quake hit near Phyu town­ship, Bago Re­gion, on Jan­uary 12, re­sult­ing in about 60 af­ter­shocks, Yangon Re­gion Depart­ment of Me­te­o­rol­ogy and Hy­drol­ogy Di­rec­tor Daw Yi Yi Nyein said.

“Yangon has be­come a dis­as­ter­prone city, with strong winds, un­prece­dented flood­ing and quakes,” she said. “All or­gan­i­sa­tions and in­di­vid­u­als should co­op­er­ate on pre­pared­ness. We need to know which ar­eas and build­ings are lo­cated on soft soil. We need to pre­pare for quakes de­pend­ing on our lo­ca­tion. Al­lu­vial land is the most dan­ger­ous.”

The MEC is go­ing to re­lease a new quake hazard map in Fe­bru­ary based on the lat­est sur­vey data in ad­di­tion to pre­vi­ous data ob­tained by lo­cal re­search.

“Build­ing with­out soil tests is dan­ger­ous to both present and fu­ture gen­er­a­tions,” U Tun Naing warned.

A boy in the rub­ble of a build­ing de­stroyed by an earth­quake in Sint Ku town­ship of Man­dalay in 2012. Photo: EPA

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