Yangon’s population looks set to double within the next thirty years. But as property developers rub their hands in anticipation, it is crucial to keep public safety at the forefront and recognize that Myanmar’s commercial hub lies in an area prone to earthquakes.
As Myanmar seeks growth and development as the country continues to open up, earthquake experts and disaster risk consultants note the importance of being aware of the dangers of a serious earthquake. There are two main issues to keep in mind. Firstly, construction techniques for houses, high-rise buildings, and for infrastructure including bridges and dams, need to take into account the earthquake threat. And secondly, owners and occupants of existing buildings, particularly colonial era property, need to beware of potential dangers of buildings that might be in poor repair, as well as the questions of how to react should a quake strike – in other words, should they try to exit the building or take cover in the building.
During the recent Earthquake Forum in Yangon, one of the issues raised was how unpredictable though inevitable earthquakes are in Myanmar and in South Asia as a whole.
The uncertainty is a problem. As Jaiganesh Murugesan, Disaster Risk Reduction Specialist at the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, explains, it is hard to predict when the next serious earthquake will hit Myanmar.
The danger is real and the country is not effectively prepared, both in terms of infrastructure standards and in the necessary drills on how to react.
“Myanmar has not had any major damaging earthquake since the middle of the 19th Century when a quake of 7 on the Richter scale struck,” Mr Murugesan says. “While the majority of the country is prone to earthquakes, experts note that there are seismic gaps along the Sagaing fault where one can expect the next potential earthquake in the range of (7 or 7.5 on the Richter Scale). However, it also depends on the return period. Experts say the return period of an earthquake along the Sagaing fault varies between 80160 years and on average 100 years after an earthquake.”
Even seismologists are unable to predict when the next “big one” will strike.
“An earthquake can happen early on or even later than that as earthquakes cannot be predicted, but they estimate based on studies,” says Mr Murugesan.