Not up to code: What Myan­mar can learn from Italy’s quake

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

SHODDY, price-cut­ting ren­o­va­tions, in breach of lo­cal build­ing reg­u­la­tions, could be partly to blame for the high death toll from this week’s dev­as­tat­ing earth­quake in cen­tral Italy, ac­cord­ing to a pros­e­cu­tor in­ves­ti­gat­ing the dis­as­ter.

As ques­tions mount over the deaths of nearly 300 peo­ple, pros­e­cu­tor Giuseppe Saieva in­di­cated that prop­erty own­ers who com­mis­sioned sus­pected sub-stan­dard work could be held re­spon­si­ble for con­tribut­ing to the quake’s deadly im­pact.

Saieva, who works in the Ri­eti re­gion be­tween Rome and the quake’s epi­cen­tre, said the tragedy could not sim­ply be filed away as an un­avoid­able nat­u­ral dis­as­ter.

“If the build­ings had been con­structed as they are in Ja­pan they wouldn’t have col­lapsed,” he told La Repub­blica.

Within hours of the quake hit­ting on Au­gust 24 Saieva was in Ama­trice, the small moun­tain town hit hard­est by the quake.

He in­spected the dam­age there be­fore open­ing a pre­lim­i­nary in­ves­ti­ga­tion for pos­si­ble cul­pa­ble homi­cide and caus­ing a dis­as­ter.

The crushed par­ti­tion walls of a col­lapsed three-storey villa were among the sights that caught his eye. “I can only think it was built on the cheap with more sand than ce­ment,” he said.

A num­ber of en­gi­neer­ing and ar­chi­tec­tural ex­perts have high­lighted the wide­spread use of rel­a­tively cheap ce­ment beams for house ex­ten­sions and ren­o­va­tions as a pos­si­ble fac­tor ex­plain­ing why so many build­ings col­lapsed.

Heavy and in­flex­i­ble, the ce­ment beams be­come deadly if re­leased by shak­ing be­cause they will crush older walls be­neath them with deadly im­pli­ca­tions.

“If it emerges that in­di­vid­u­als cut cor­ners, they will be pur­sued and those that have made mis­takes will pay a price,” the pros­e­cu­tor said.

The is­sue of whether some of the deaths could have been avoided is par­tic­u­larly acute in the Ama­trice area be­cause it is so close – 50 kilo­me­tres, or 32 miles – to L’Aquila, which was hit by a 2009 earth­quake in which over 300 peo­ple per­ished.

An out­cry over the shoddy, cor­rupt build­ing prac­tices which led to so many build­ings in the univer­sity city be­ing in­ad­e­quately pre­pared for a quake led to the na­tional Civil Pro­tec­tion agency mak­ing al­most 1 bil­lion eu­ros (US$1.2 bil­lion) avail­able for up­grad­ing build­ings in quake­vul­ner­a­ble ar­eas.

But the take-up of grants has been low. Crit­ics blame bu­reau­cracy but oth­ers main­tain that in­de­pen­dent-minded vil­lagers will al­ways find the cheapest way of get­ting their ren­o­va­tions done, what­ever the risks.

Some 40 per­cent of the Ital­ian pop­u­la­tion, 24 mil­lion peo­ple, live in zones vul­ner­a­ble to earthquakes and the risk that en­tails has been a sub­ject for the coun­try’s finest minds for cen­turies.

As early as the first cen­tury, an ad­viser to the em­peror Ves­pasian, Pliny the El­der, was mak­ing rec­om­men­da­tions on how build­ings could be de­signed to with­stand tremors.

And the thicker walls and stone piers that are fea­tures of many mod­ern-day quake-proof build­ings, were also in­cluded in plans drawn up by Re­nais­sance ar­chi­tect Pirro Lig­o­rio in the late 16th cen­tury, af­ter south­ern Italy was dev­as­tated by an earth­quake that caused 2000 deaths.

Ex­perts how­ever say pro­tect­ing Italy’s un­ri­valled artis­tic and ar­chi­tec­tural her­itage is far from straight­for­ward.

“If we start from the idea of up­grad­ing ev­ery old build­ing to com­pa­ra­ble safety lev­els of a mod­ern build­ing built to an­ti­seis­mic norms, we have to ac­cept that we will never get there,” said Paolo Baz­zurro, a pro­fes­sor in con­struc­tion tech­niques at the Univer­sity of Pavia.

The trend away from tra­di­tional wooden roofs and beams is not the only prob­lem: Widen­ing win­dow open­ings and the re­moval of re­in­forc­ing chains em­bed­ded in walls have also contributed.

“These things make build­ings more vul­ner­a­ble,” said Baz­zurro.

Prime Min­is­ter Mat­teo Renzi has promised to re­build the hill­top vil­lages dev­as­tated by the quake. There will be no re­peat of a failed at­tempt to re­place the old com­mu­ni­ties with new towns else­where, which hap­pened af­ter L’Aquila.

“There are lots of tech­ni­cally fea­si­ble things that can be done and do not re­quire huge in­ter­ven­tions,” said Cul­ture Min­istry ex­pert Paolo Ian­nelli.

“Given that towns in the seis­mic ar­eas have ac­quired a knowl­edge of what works over the cen­turies and gen­er­ally used the most ap­pro­pri­ate ma­te­ri­als, it is a ques­tion of cor­rect­ing ren­o­va­tions that have been done over time and have im­pacted on the re­sis­tance of the build­ings,” he told AFP.

Bet­ter and more reg­u­lar checks on the im­pact of rain on foun­da­tions would be one area where the state could im­prove its con­trols, he added.

For houses built be­fore an­ti­seis­mic mea­sures be­came the norm in 1970, it is rel­a­tively easy to in­stall shock ab­sorbers, ex­perts say.

But a com­pre­hen­sive so­lu­tion will not come cheap.

In­fra­struc­ture Min­is­ter Graziano Del­rio was asked last week how much it would cost to bring ev­ery build­ing in Italy up to mod­ern anti-quake stan­dards. His an­swer: 360 bil­lion eu­ros ($403 bil­lion).

Photo: AFP

Fire­fight­ers in­spect the rub­ble and de­bris in the dam­aged cen­tral Ital­ian vil­lage of Ama­trice on Au­gust 27.

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