Contractor ignorance kills earthquake victims in sesmic zones, says U. of Colorado professor

December 15, 2004

Hundreds of thousands of earthquake fatalities could be averted if building contractors and homeowners were alerted to elementary construction principles, especially in the world's six deadliest earthquake countries led by Iran, according to a University of Colorado at Boulder seismologist.

Roger Bilham said Iran, Turkey, China and the Caucasus states run the highest risk among developing nations, while Japan and Italy are the most hazardous industrialized nations in terms of earthquakes.

"Each of these countries are multiple offenders in terms of killing their people with 30,000-plus-fatality earthquakes," Bilham said. "While the industrial nations have acted to include earthquake resistance, the poorest countries in the world are constructing more dwellings now than at any time in Earth's history. It's imperative that contractors in the developing nations are educated in the perils of taking short-cuts in construction."

Iran is the worst offender, according to Bilham. One in 3,000 Iranians dies in an earthquake, he said, a statistic that has remained unchanged since 1900.

"Most of Iran needs rebuilding," Bilham said. "If the population of Iran had a choice between spending oil revenues on munitions or houses that won't kill them, I suspect they would choose a safe home. It's all a matter of earthquake education."

Though earthquake resistant construction methods have been implemented in Iran, they've had little effect because few of the newer, more resistant structures have been hit by an earthquake, according to Bilham. "Teheran now hosts 12 million Iranians, many living in perilous structures," he said.

"The world's vast urban population has doubled and re-doubled in a short amount of time compared to the historical recurrence interval of damaging earthquakes," Bilham said.

"The world's exploding mega-cities have yet to experience a major earthquake, but it's only a matter of time before one or more occurs. Unprecedented numbers of fatalities are likely unless earthquake resistance construction codes are applied seriously," he said.
-end-


University of Colorado at Boulder

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