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Quakes show danger in laxity in enforcing building codes


By M.A. Saki, Mehr News Agency

Iron, cement, and brick have been used in the construction of most buildings in villages in East Azerbaijan Province, yet many buildings either collapsed or sustained serious cracks when two earthquakes measuring 6.2 and 6 on the Richter scale hit the region on Saturday afternoon.

If construction materials are properly utilized, edifices must resist quakes much stronger than these two.

Iranian geophysicist and seismologist Bahram Akashesh said on Sunday that in developed countries, earthquakes with a magnitude of the ones that hit East Azerbaijan cause only six injuries and not hundreds injured and more than 200 dead.

"In other countries, such an earthquake leaves six people injured and not hundreds dead and injured," Akashesh stated.

Unfortunately, there is still no rule requiring that buildings constructed in villages be relatively quake-resistant. Only over the last few years has it been the case that people are required to observe building codes when they build houses in villages using bank loans, although they are still not observing the codes efficiently.

The cabinet issued a decree calling for relief supplies to be sent to the people of the quake-stricken region, but that cannot bring the people who died back to life or heal those who will suffer life-long disabilities due to the quakes. Precautionary measures against quakes should be taken beforehand, and successive governments are to blame for the large loss of life.

Even now municipalities and Iran's Construction Engineering Organization are not fully enforcing the building codes for the construction of houses in cities, let alone villages.

For example, when my family built a house in a village in the southwestern province of Lorestan about 30 years ago, nobody asked us to comply with the building codes. We also used materials which are still used after 30 years: iron, cement, and brick. However, when a quake with a magnitude of 6 struck the region on March 31, 2006, it displaced the back wall of our house and we were lucky that we were staying outdoors because a smaller quake had hit four hours before.

All the relevant bodies, including the Interior Ministry and the Construction Engineering Organization, are responsible to varying degrees, for the loss of life in quakes which strike the country from time to time.

Due to lax construction, not only are lives lost but capital is also wasted.

In a country like Iran, which sits on seismic fault lines and has been repeatedly hit by devastating earthquakes, ignoring building codes is a serious crime.

According to expert studies, spending an additional 10 percent in construction costs can make a building relatively quake-resistant, yet the average person mostly cares about the beauty of buildings and contractors are more concerned about the bottom line than the lives of people.

The quakes in East Azerbaijan should come as another serious jolt to the Interior Ministry, the Construction Engineering Organization, and municipalities, informing them that laxity in the construction of buildings is playing with the lives of the people and wasting national resources.


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