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Averting earthquakes

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Quakes are natural occurrences but the one that occurred in Turkey and Syria has been attributed to negligence and corruption among government officials, builders and contractors. At the last count, over 33,000 people were confirmed dead and few pulled out alive after about six days. Experts say Nigeria is not immune to earthquakes as they recall tremors that occurred in several states before, including parts of Oyo, Bayelsa, Rivers, and Kaduna. They fear that in a country where people get away with almost anything if it happens here, millions of souls will be lost.

By Okwy Iroegbu-Chikezie

In Turkey, like in Nigeria, there is a programme that allows building owners to pay fines instead of bringing them up to code. The government agency responsible for enforcement acknowledged in 2019 that over half of buildings in Turkey, accounting for 13 million apartments, were not in compliance.

Two contractors held responsible for the destruction of buildings in Adiyaman  in a part of Turkey were arrested at Istanbul Airport while fleeing the country, Turkish  private DHA news agency and other media reported. One detained contractor, Yavuz Karakus, insisted: “My conscience is clear. I built 44 buildings. Four of them were demolished. I did everything according to the rules.”

In web news monitored by The Nation, the respondents believed that corruption and negligence are at the core of the earthquake.They believe that ignoring building codes and government complicity is what led Turkey to this situation. They argued that every country that is prone to earthquakes should have strong buildings.They juxtaposed it with Erzin in Turkey where the earthquake didn’t happen because the town council wasn’t corrupt and insisted on building in compliance with the codes with no illegal building. They stated that only few buildings suffered minor damage, but no collapsed ones, injured or dead people.

Also, a brand new library in Adiyaman built by EU standards survived and it’s a full glass facade structure – not a single pane cracked. So, there is an example that it can be done, they added. Looking at the devastation in Turkey and Nigeria and imagining the probability of the earthquake, it is frightening to say the least.

A former National President of Building Collapse Prevention Guild (BCPG), Kunle Awobodu, and its former National Secretary, George Akinola, an architect, had drawn the attention of the government to a study they did on the possibility of Nigeria experiencing earthquakes and the need for the government to be proactive by reducing the spate of substandard building construction across the nation.

The report noted that mild earthquakes recently occurred in parts of Oyo, Bayelsa, Rivers, and Kaduna states.

The report observed that vibrations accompanying the earth tremors resulted in the collapse of mud houses and infliction of visible cracks in modern buildings within the affected areas. This development has confirmed the possibility of Nigeria experiencing an earthquake in the near future, it stated.

The report stated that the perception that Nigeria is safe or far from seismic active regions is no longer tenable. It said: “Shaki in Oyo State has been subjected to intermittent earth tremors and climaxed in the first week of June 2016. Communities in Bayelsa and Rivers on July 10, 2016 had a similar experience but in this case due to prolonged effect of oil exploitation. Records from the seismological station of the Centre for Geodesy and Geodynamics (CGG) show that the earthquakes that occurred in the Kwoi area of Kaduna State on 11 and 12 September, 2016 ranged from 2.8 to 3.1 in magnitude.

“Shaki and Kwoi towns are located along the Ifewara-Zungeru fault zone, which is linked with the Atlantic fracture system. The fault transcends the Southwest and Northwest of the country, thereby making that stretch of land susceptible to seismicity due to stresses generated within the earth crust, that is, partial reactivation of fossil plate boundaries.”

The study added that earth tremors occurred in Nigeria in 1933,1939,1964,1984,1990,1994,1997, 2000, and 2009 and in 2016. It, however,  argued that a series of earth tremors might not necessarily lead to the high intensity earthquake.

However, a study by Dr. Adepelumi Adekunle Abraham of the Department of Geology, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile- Ife and his team exacerbated the signs as follows, “After the earth tremor of 2009 in Southwestern Nigeria, (which) was felt in several towns and villages in Oyo, Osun and Ogun states, a detailed short-term probabilistic earthquake prediction was carried out by our team, our findings indicated the probability of earthquake occurrence in the study area between the year 2009 and 2028 increased from 2.8 per cent  to 91.1per cent”.

The result also showed that the probability of three events occurring has the highest likelihood within the predicted years. Also, found that the Weibull probability density model predicts a damaging earthquake (Magnitude 5) before 2020.”

He advised that since buildings are the bastion of physical development, which are used to adjudge a nation’s rung in the global socio-economic ladder, investors in buildings should be concerned about the durability of the buildings they are providing funds for.  According to him, the longer a building exists, the more the revenue or value the owner derives from it, a solidly constructed building can stand the test of time.

He cautioned that Nigeria must not continue to repeat the mistake of Haiti and Nepal where stringent building regulations were lacking, thereby aggravating the effects of the earthquakes on buildings. In an earthquake disaster, substandard buildings have been the major cause of high death toll. And, unfortunately, in Nigeria, the National Building Code is not in existence.

Awobodu, also a builder, said in 2016, A 5.7 magnitude earthquake occurred near Bukoba town in Northern Tanzania on September 10, 2016. Furthermore, he noted that, according to the authorities, the fatalities were people ‘in brick structures’ that collapsed.

On the lesson learnt, he responded that from this experience, it becomes imperative to warn prospective homeowners and developers that they should follow due process and avoid quakes. He further advised that the government should pay due attention to building construction from scratch by strengthening ministries of physical planning and development control, and also uphold the tenet of professionalism in the nation’s building industry.

The paper reiterated the need to heed the call made by the Director of Centre for Geodesy and Geodynamics, Toro, Bauchi State, Dr. Tahir Abubakar Yakubu, that the government should establish more seismological stations to monitor crustal movements in the identified earthquake-prone areas.

The paper raised the alarm that a nation without an effective national building code would end up in ruin in the event of an earthquake occurrence. The experts mulled the need for stricter enforcement of building regulations without compromise, adding that it would prevent serious calamity in the future.

He said: “Many nations, including the United States, Japan and Australia have been constructing earthquake resistant buildings in their seismic regions. Nigeria can imitate such preventive measures.”

Also, a developer, Ismail Tunde, asked the Federal and state governments, including regulators in the housing sector to fashion out laws that would guide  development. “Corruption and negligence is at the core of every problem. People usually ignore things until the inevitable happens. It’s always been like this and we just never learn,” he claimed.

Citing buildings that have collapsed as a result of poor regulation and human and material losses involved, he advised that if the implementation of the building code is not done as soon as possible and regulators are made to answer for collapsed a building, which they supervised, the nation will not survive the slightest earthquake.

He said: “Since there is a probability of earthquakes in Nigeria, the government should, as a matter of fact, begin to audit buildings and ensure they are reinforced. Again, for regulatory agencies they should be made to face heavy penalties in case of any eventuality. A situation where people build skyscrapers without approvals and also deny the regulators access to the sites is not good at all. We can only imagine if we have the kind of challenge currently in Turkey there may not be any survivors.”

To avoid multiple disasters, the experts advised that all hands must be on deck to check substandard building materials before it is late.

Source: The Nation Newspaper

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