Meeting mostly focused on purchasing new rescue equipment, awareness building and other measures touched on, sources say
The government is considering three-step measures to tackle earthquakes across the country following a series of tremors in Sylhet that may foreshadow a bigger earthquake in the future.
Ensuring that buildings are earthquake resistant, raising awareness, and capacity building for rescue operations after a potential earthquake were the major issues discussed at a meeting of the earthquake preparation and awareness building committee on Tuesday afternoon, ministry officials and experts who attended the meeting told Dhaka Tribune.
Dr Md Enamur Rahman, state minister for the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, chaired the meeting, while members of the committee from among experts and various other ministries participated virtually.
Dr Enamur Rahman told Dhaka Tribune: "As Sylhet has faced random earthquakes recently, we discussed our plan to tackle any upcoming earthquake. Next week, we have a meeting with the technical committee and then we will form a complete plan.
“From [Tuesday's] meeting, we have initially decided that new buildings must strictly maintain the existing building code before starting construction. Old buildings that are vulnerable will be demolished or renovated as earthquake resistant buildings.
"We are also maximizing our technical and equipment capacity, so that we can tackle a big earthquake in the near future,” he added.
“Awareness building, zonal planning, capacity building and destruction or retrofitting of hazardous buildings were the major topics of discussion at the meeting,” Md Mohsin, secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, said after the meeting.
“Experts gave their suggestions on tackling the risk of earthquakes and we are going to take the decisions accordingly,” he added.
Meeting insiders, asking to remain anonymous, said the meeting mostly focused on purchasing new equipment for rescue operations after an earthquake. Awareness programs and other measures were only touched upon.
They also said Dr Mehedi Ahmed Ansary, a teacher at the department of civil engineering of Buet, delivered a presentation at the meeting.
“Dr Ansary said 90% of casualties in earthquakes occurred in building collapses. As such, we have to make sure that buildings are earthquake resistant,” one of the meeting sources quoted him as saying.
The Buet teacher recommended colour coding buildings in terms of earthquake risk.
“Green would mean the building is earthquake resistant, yellow that it has minor problems, amber that it has major problems, and red that it is very hazardous,” the source added.
Dr Ansary told Dhaka Tribune: “We can retrofit existing buildings that are not earthquake resistant by strengthening them with extra rods and construction materials.
“After the Rana plaza tragedy, we have already made around 1,500 factories earthquake resistant by retrofitting them,” he added.
Officials of Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk) and the Public Works Department who attended the meeting said new buildings that were being constructed by following the existing building code were already earthquake resistant.
It is imperative that the authorities ensure that building code violations were not possible, they added.
Top officials of the Relief Ministry said at the meeting that the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) had approved a Tk2,300 crore project to purchase the necessary equipment to operate rescue missions after an earthquake.
The equipment, which includes ladders that can reach the top of 50-storey buildings, will be disbursed to the Armed Forces Division, Fire Services, Bangladesh Police, RAB, Coast Guard and other forces across the country.
Ministry officials also said earthquake response plans would differ from area to area. For example, Sylhet and Mymensingh would be considered earthquake prone and have one kind of plan, while Jessore and Barisal would be considered not earthquake prone and have a different plan.
Rajuk officials present at the meeting said there were 500 hazardous buildings in Dhaka, which might lead to major disasters during a strong tremor.
Dr Syed Humayun Akhter, professor at the department of geology of Dhaka University, at the meeting said awareness building needed to be prioritized in earthquake preparations.
“The tremors in Sylhet have been different. Due to the land plate the area is on, there will be a big earthquake there soon. So, we have to prepare the locals in Sylhet before the quake hits,” he told Dhaka Tribune after the meeting.
The divisional commissioner and the DC of Sylhet also participated in the meeting, and asked for instructions on two factories that have been closed since the tremors on Saturday, meeting sources said.