Planning Earthquake Risk Reduction

By: Prof Anand Swarup Arya

New Delhi, February 04 (G’nY News Service): Most disasters arrive uninvited; this is especially true of earthquakes. Earthquake risks compound with unsafe construction. Appropriate decisions by the government along with effective action and planning can go a long way to mitigate the adverse effects of an earthquake and minimise the loss of human lives and property. For this, a well-thought out disaster management system needs to be instituted.

The Government of Gujarat, following the 2001 Bhuj disaster, came up with a policy for disaster relief, reconstruction and future preparedness (Fig 1). One of the most distinguishing feature of the reconstruction programme was capacity building, community participation and long-term disaster management. Initiatives taken included the preparation and distribution of guidelines and reading material, training programmes, workshops and relevant studies on disaster preparedness.

For efficiency and effectiveness of the procedures, a large scale capacity building programme for 30,000 masons and 6000 engineers was undertaken soon after, along with provision of ‘materials banks’ to be sourced by individual house owners. The basic approach was owner-driven reconstruction. People reconstructed their houses themselves, with assistance and facilitation by the State government. In addition, NGOs undertook construction of few houses under the public-private partnership programme. The approach ascertained earthquake resistant measures in all house construction, with 1,80,000 houses being rebuilt within 30 months.

Earthque graph
Fig. 1: Gujarat reconstruction and recovery programme, post Bhuj


Realising that training of practising engineers alone would not be adequate for capacity building on a sustainable basis, seismic engineering was incorporated into the curriculum of all engineering colleges and polytechnics in Gujarat, with the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority (GSDMA) organising training programmes for teachers of technical institutions.

Buildings affected by the earthquake were rebuilt, retrofitted, and repaired through the application of earthquake-resistant technology. The approach to livelihood restoration was three pronged:

  • immediate restoration of livelihoods;
  • enhancement of the skills of artisans;
  • and empowerment of artisans to market their skills.

Elements of a sound earthquake risk reduction programme

The major elements of earthquake risk reduction are:
– Hazard evaluation and risk assessment which includes mapping and quantification of earthquake hazard.
– A housing census, which can indicate the numbers of highly vulnerable buildings.
– Assessment of vulnerability of existing structures.
– Disaster preparedness and preparation that involves:

  • Building damage scenario following a major earthquake
  • Preventive measures
  • Research and development, education and training

In India, this kind of systematic evaluation of existing structures has yet to be carried out scientifically, just so that a well-laid out plan for disaster management is put in place.

India: The Way Ahead

Suggestions for the next decade would be to invest in global observations and to provide a boost to the science of observation and measurement, on which the foundations of real-time disaster preparedness can be laid. Additionally, we need to enhance the scientific content of prediction methodologies and reliability of forecast.

We also need to map earthquake hazards on a large scale, marking microzonation of urban areas at earthquake risk and intimately link the maps thus made to development planning.We also need to foster closer partnerships with financial and legal institutions, insurance companies, community-based organisations and industry. An all India institutional network, with adequate investment on public awareness, education and human resource development, can certainly prove the best bulwark against natural disasters, and serve us well for disaster mitigation and management.


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