Lax building regulations are blamed for deaths in Bam

President Mohammad Khatami has promised to rebuild the historic Citadel of Bam, which was destroyed in last month’s earthquake “whatever it costs.”

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By  Eudore Chand Published  January 13, 2004

President Mohammad Khatami has promised to rebuild the historic Citadel of Bam, which was destroyed in last month’s earthquake “whatever it costs.” However, many suggest that Tehran would do better to focus on enforcing regulations to ensure that future buildings are earthquake-proof. The December earthquake in Bam killed an estimated 30 000 people, and lax building standards have been blamed for many of the deaths. The city was full of old mud brick buildings that collapsed in the quake, but modern constructions fared little better. “The earthquake that destroyed Bam is the last warning for officials to force construction workers to conform to quake-resistant standards,” an official at Tehran’s City Hall told AFP. “Most of the buildings [in Bam] were ancient, but obviously not even the new ones were built to anti-quake standards,” agreed Iranian architect, Ahmad Behnam. The city was decimated by the earthquake, which measured 6.7 on the Richter scale. Thousands of buildings collapsed, including government buildings, private homes and new hospitals. Newer constructions should have complied to quake-resistant regulations passed after a 1991 earthquake killed 37 000 people in Iran’s northwestern provinces of Ghilan and Zandjan. These mandated that new buildings must withstand tremors measuring eight degrees on the Richter scale. “The problem is that it is not very clear who should oversee the implementation of these laws,” admitted Khatami. “Unfortunately, many inspectors responsible for checking applications don’t do their job or shut their eyes after getting a little backhander,” said Behnam. In the capital, as well as in many provincial towns, most new buildings are constructed with blatant disregard for the law. Alongside the problem of regulations, Iran also suffers from a lack of quality materials, which are vital for building strong earthquake-resistant structures. “Very often the cement and the steel used is not the required quality to withstand a powerful earthquake,” noted Behnam. “Sometimes, I’ve seen steel and concrete buildings collapse more quickly than an old home, simply because of bad quality materials,” he added. For now though, Iran is focusing on rescue work in Bam and plans for the reconstruction of the citadel. “We will call in experts from abroad and whatever it costs we will meet it so that [the citadel of] Bam, symbol of a civilisation dating back two to three thousand years, is rebuilt,” said Khatami. Countless buildings collapsed in the Bam earthquake, including modern constructions, the city’s Citadeal and other historic monuments.

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