The powerful earthquake that jolted the region on Monday renewed concerns about the seismic safety of high-rise buildings in Pakistan where lack of effective legislation and poor implementation of the laws are posing a major threat to the safety of a large number of residents in the event of a disaster.
The country had already seen the earthquake devastation on October 08, 2005 when over 87,000 people were killed. However, according to construction experts, the majority of commercial and residential buildings in Pakistan are prone to earthquake damage as seismic safety has only recently been given some consideration by the authorities and builders.
A spokesperson for the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Reema Zuberi said the Authority is still in process of introducing seismic safety code throughout the country.
Even in capital Islamabad, the laws are continuously flouted by influential builders and an official survey revealed that at least four high-rise buildings were severely damaged by the 7.7 magnitude earthquake on Monday.
It seems the authorities have learnt no lesson from the Margalla Towers tragedy where more than 70 people, including foreign nationals, were killed in 2005 earthquake of almost similar magnitude in a high-rise building located in the heart of the capital.
After the tragedy, the new building codes were introduced in Islamabad by the Capital Development Authority (CDA) with more focus on seismic safety but the rules could not stop construction of illegal high-rise building in the capital.
Two of the four buildings damaged on Monday were constructed in E-11 after the introduction of new building codes but despite complaints by the local residents, the CDA could not take any action against the owners who rented the buildings comprising 30 to 40 flats each to around 70 families.
“We have sealed these two buildings in E-11 and the residents have been evacuated,” said a CDA spokesman while talking to The News.
He said the Authority has launched a massive survey in the capital to ascertain the earthquake-related damages to high-rise buildings and four damaged buildings had been identified by the officials till Monday evening.
“The Authority will not spare anyone found involved in the construction of unsafe and illegal buildings and strict action will be taken against violators regardless of their political affiliation,” said the spokesman.
When asked why the Authority did not implement building safety laws after the 2005 earthquake, he said what has been done in past is done but from now on the Authority will ensure strict enforcement of safety rules. He said new mega malls in Islamabad will also be directed to introduce earthquake evacuation plans.
However, the residents of E-11 said the Authority had been paying no heed to their complaints regarding the construction of illegal high-rise buildings in the area.
“We had written letters to chairman CDA and held meetings with him to inform him about the illegal dangerous activity but no action was taken against the illegal high-rise,” said Major (R) Muhammad Raza who is heading a 400-strong community group of E-11 residents.
He said the earthquake has exposed the low quality of the illegal buildings. A resident of one of the sealed buildings, Mrs Babar said the police sealed the illegal building after the Monday’s earthquake but the residents are left to spend the night on the road.
“Why the authorities allowed construction of such dangerous building for residential purpose,” she asked. Mrs Babar said around 40 families were living in one building alone.
When contacted by The News, the NDMA spokesperson said the Authority has recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Pakistan Engineering Council (PEC) for fire safety provisions in building codes.
However, she said the seismic safety issue is still in the progress but PEC is looking into the matter. In 2007, the PEC had introduced seismic safety provisions in building codes but the implementation of the code is yet to be seen in major cities of Pakistan.
Under the amendment in the Construction and Operation of Engineering Works By-laws, 1987, three new by-laws were added.“The provisions of the Building Code of Pakistan (Seismic Provisions-2007) shall apply for engineering design of buildings, like structures and related components,” says the amendment, adding that construction of buildings in violation of the building code shall be considered a violation of professional engineering work as specified under clause (XXV) of Section 2 of the Act.