Building laws


And disaster management

Irrespective of what the most gullible might say about earthquakes being the result of our bad deeds, one should be a little wary of the scale this natural disaster can cause. As it is almost impossible to pinpoint where it might strike next, unlike storms and rains that are fairly predictable, it could cause a huge loss to life and property. The recent weeks have seen more than one jolting experience and that should raise some alarm bells, as Pakistan has many cities, some major ones, right in the seismic zone.

With our general lack of responsibility, even a quake in the vicinity of 4-plus on the Richter scale can cause huge damage. Take for example the city of Karachi, where millions of people live in shanty houses, slums, housing projects unworthy even for animals, one such incident could cause a multitude of casualties. Moreover, what’s really troubling is the fact that nothing substantial has been done to avoid such a situation, not even after the earthquake of 2005 ruined major part of the country up north and left more than 70,000 dead. Building laws in Karachi and other urban areas are ignored to save a few bucks. No fire safety equipment is installed at high-rise buildings, offices, and housing projects as it would “hurt their visual appeal” while also increasing the cost of such projects.

Pakistan was lucky that it didn’t have to face much destruction in the recent earthquakes that hit the country, along with Iran and India, in the past few days. An earthquake of 7.8 in magnitude is often more lethal but Pakistan was lucky that its damage was not widespread as it happened in an area that wasn’t densely populated and that the epicentre of the quake wasn’t too deep. However, it appears the lesson hasn’t been learnt yet. No strict building laws are applied, nor are buildings checked for earthquakes, fire and other natural hazards. Bangladesh is still trying to dig out all the bodies from underneath a building that collapsed a few days ago. Karachi and Lahore have many such buildings that are a clear threat to the safety of their occupants but their owners appear to be paying no heed to what should be done at once. It was the same dilly-dallying and an effort to work around building laws that caused the fire and enormous loss of life in factories in Karachi and Lahore.

Providing safe environment for the workers and tenants of a building is the duty of those who own them, but making sure that they follow the laws is the duty of the government. Though by extension, the workers and tenants are also responsible for it. If one of them is casual in performing its duty, the consequences can be really disastrous.