Feb 21, 2009

Waiting for another disaster?

A quake that measured 5.8 on the Richter scale hit Muzaffarabad, other areas in Azad Kashmir and towns across Pakistan's north. The epicentre of the tremor lay in Indian-Held Kashmir. Though it mercifully caused no casualties, the quake triggered widespread panic. It also delivered a warning we should not ignore.In the Azad Kashmir capital, one of the buildings damaged was a newly built government school, with two children injured as debris fell. The incident is small. The children suffered nothing more than bruises or scratches. But even so it brings back terrible memories of October 2005 when school buildings tumbled like ninepins across the affected area as a result of the quake that killed at least 73,000. Surveys conducted in the wake of the disaster found 17,000 schools had collapsed. 10,000 children died. The Earthquake Engineering Research Institute based in California, in a detailed report, commented on the substandard construction of school buildings.We had been promised this would not be allowed to happen again and that the quality of construction would be monitored. The message from Muzaffarabad is that this may not have happened. Elsewhere too, structures built after the quake, are in many cases not resistant to disaster. High-rise buildings continue to come up in Islamabad, just three and a half years after the collapse of Margalla Towers. All the warnings, all the advice, have been ignored. The lives of people seem to matter little, and we seem willing to wait for another disaster to, one day, strike and create havoc in our midst.

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