Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tremors and tottering buildings

Are rules of construction being followed?

A five-storied building in Rajshahi has moved sideways and leaned on to another building. There was, of course, a mild earth tremor that caused such a condition. And as earthquakes go, the possibility of disasters is always there. But what is of greater significance in the present circumstances is the question of why a mild tremor should leave a building in precarious conditions. Over the last many years, the media have consistently drawn the attention of the authorities to the poor and sloppy manner in which buildings, especially high rise ones, are being constructed in the nation's urban areas. In the capital itself, there have been instances of buildings developing cracks not long after they have been constructed, with residents moving out in panic.

There are quite a few crucial points that must be addressed insofar as the construction of buildings is concerned. And these questions are there because in a very large number of cases it is such areas as water bodies or places where the earth is soft that plans for residential buildings have been put in place. One of the questions, therefore, is to what extent such soil has been examined for content and to what degree it has been flattened and hardened in order to withstand the pressure of new construction. There are already projections that in Dhaka itself, a relatively serious earthquake could result in as much as 80 per cent of high rises collapsing all around us. That may sound apocalyptic, but it cannot be dismissed out of hand. The frenzy with which old homes are being demolished and apartment complexes are rising in their place is quite naturally worrying for everyone. The nature of the soil aside, there comes the question of the fraudulent means employed in the supply and use of construction materials. Allegations have been rife about spurious cement, meaning a mixture of simple soil and actual cement, as well as steel of poor quality being used to construct buildings. The impunity with which such grossly questionable activities have gone on has never been challenged or checked.

Which is why it now becomes a matter of vital concern that the regulatory bodies, responsible for overseeing building construction across the country, take a little more interest in the matter. Of course, there are also the corrupt elements within such bodies; and as long as they are safely ensconced in their jobs, nothing worthwhile can be expected from their organisations. The job of handling the issue must begin, therefore, through making these regulatory bodies corruption-free. Only then can they morally be serious about upholding the existing building code for citizens.


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