Monday, September 21, 2009

8.0+ Earthquake Imminent?

A big shake- ostensibly shaking the Dhakaite's sense of invincibility- lasting a full 20 seconds was felt at Dhaka immediately following the Eid, at about 3:55 p.m. Its epicenter was 460 kilometers north-northeast of Dhaka near the Bhutan-China border. This is the 5th jolt felt in the north eastern India and Bangladesh region- in last few weeks each with increasing magnitude 4.0, 4.3, 4.9, 5.3, and 5.9 and now a 6.4.
Map showing earthquakes

See how hot the area have become from the Real Time Earthquake Map served live by USGA.

Is an Earthquake of thousand year now imminent? A paper by geophysist Roger Bilham at the University of Colorado is predicting  a mega earthquake of more than 8.0 magnitude is imminent here, putting over 50 million people at risk in India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan. The paper says: 

"Our conclusions also raise important issues concerning the seismic hazard potential of the Shillong Plateau. The >300-km length of the Dauki fault has not slipped recently, but were it to slip in a single earthquake its potential maximum magnitude (M > 8) would constitute a significant seismic threat to nearby densely populated regions. of Bangladesh, and to the megacity of Dhaka less than 150 km to the south (Fig. 1). The interval between these giant plateau-building earthquakes fortunately exceeds 3000 years."
Until now, the largest  in the World is the 9.5 earthquake in Chile in 1960. Assam Quake of 1950 ranks among the top 20 ever.

While the traditional house structures in rural areas can withstand good part of the jolts but it is a big question mark for the recent houses built in this decade of apartment mania.

It is time for apartment dwellers to get their design specs from builders and see if their apartment complex can withstand a jolt. It is difficult to enforce the conformance to specs. from government side due to rampant corruptions. But it is quite easy from the other side. Customer's should demand the specs before buying. This is for their own personal safety and the safety of the life's investment.

Unlike a land or single owner real estate- a joint apartment complex if destroyed or damaged will  lose almost all its value since currently their is no building reserve system. It will be very difficult to sort out the joint ownership. Being one of the most earthquake prone area in the world- apartment buyers in Bangladesh will be wise to check earthquake specifications before buying for the sake of their investment. It is not that expensive. A seismic quake resistant building may add just 1-2% to the building cost. A property with non-conformance of building code looses10-20% of its market value based on severity of the deficiency.

House of Ashes?

Since 2003 a new material called "Fly Ash" has been added to all major brand cements used in  Bangladesh. It is being imported from the thermal power plants of India mostly from Farakka!  A recent article  signaled the alarm bell:
"Fly Ash, now mostly used by most of the cement grinding companies in the country.According to experts, while regular method of producing cement is mixing 95 percent clinker with 5 per cent gypsum, which makes Portland Grey Cement, conventionally used for various types of construction, the cement produced with approximately 70 percent clinker and 30 percent fly ash could be used in any light construction only. But, in Bangladesh, such cement has been largely used in major constructions, including bridges and high-rise buildings, leaving serious risk of massive devastation once earthquake measuring above 8 in Richter scale takes place in the country."
The fly ash for Bangladesh is  coming from Farakka. The web-site of the exporter company Leonoard Exports indicates:
"Leonard Exports is a group headed by Mr P.K.Daloria, former Regional Manager (Sales) of Raymond Cement, having more than 20 years of experience in the cement Industry. Since its inception in  2001, we have been the pioneer in exporting Fly Ash to Bangladesh , Sourcing from Farakka Super Thermal Power Station. The concept of blending fly ash with cement was introduced by us in Bangladesh . We export approximately   20 to 25 thousand tons to Bangladesh per month."
If your apartment building or house is built with Holcim, Cemex, Seven Circle, MI Cement, or Heidelberg brand of cement you might want to check it out as the above company lists them as clients. 

By the way even if there is no big quake you might not be all that safe in a house of fly ash. Fly Ash is also toxic and reportedly being dumped at upper Jomuna riverbed [news]. IndianExpress reports:
"Fly Ash s a toxic material typically containing arsenic, cadmium and lead. Cadmium is carcinogenic. Even one part per million of cadmium in living tissue of plants and animals may cause serious damage. Fly ash also negatively alters the DNA of plants. Plants have been found to undergo anatomical changes when grown on fly ash."
Well thats not all, if your dwelling has been built with Fly Ash- you also might want to keep your house wel ventilated. This is what a 2008 study [Sundar, Danalakshmi, and Santhanam, 2008] conducted by the scientists of Radiological Safety Division, Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research found out
"Since fly ash contains measurable quantity of radioactive species viz., Uranium, Thorium and Potassium though may be negligible it is of interest to study their radiological impact to the society. As part of an extensive study to meet this objective, radon measurements were carried out in the buildings/houses constructed with fly ash bricks and non-fly ash bricks in the residential areas of 10 major thermal power stations situated in India spanning about 1000 km from each other. The results of the study indicate that radon concentrations in both the types of buildings are well within the stipulated values and the radon levels do not differ much in view of good ventilation provided in most of the houses."
Imagine- what a day in Dhaka! 10-15% of  the older and 25-30% of the newer sand-castle apartments collapsed. Even if you have survived this now the immobile traffic - no ambulance is going anywhere in any direction. There are narrow lanes which cannot carry even a khatia- forget the rescue vehicles or fire trucks coming any closer.

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