A joint survey conducted by Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme or CDMP and Japan International Cooperation Agency or JICA back in 2009 revealed that at least 72000 buildings in Dhaka city would completely collapse and more than 135,000 buildings would be damaged if an earthquake of magnitude seven or more hit Dhaka.
Fourteen years have gone by since the release of the data, the number of buildings in Dhaka has grown substantially.
The recent 7.8-magnitude earthquake that devastated a large swathe of areas in the Levant region, mainly in Syria and Turkey, and killed hundreds of thousands of people and counting, have brought the question of preparedness for Dhaka in case of a significant tremor forward again.
Academics, experts and stakeholders interviewed for this article do not believe any progress has been made regarding preparedness to minimise the scale of damage during an earthquake since the report’s release.
According to them, Dhaka is under serious risk due to unplanned urbanisation and buildings constructed without following the earthquake preparedness code.
Experts have long been raising the alarm and painting a dark picture of how Dhaka will look in catastrophes of such biblical proportions, but they have little to say about what can be done to minimise the risks.
POSSIBLE EPICENTRES OF EARTHQUAKES IN BANGLADESH
Dr Syed Humayun Akhter, former professor of geology at Dhaka University and the incumbent vice-chancellor at Bangladesh Open University, pinpointed two possible epicentres of a major shake in Bangladesh.
The first one is the infamous Dauki Fault, which stretches from Sunamganj to Jaflong areas in the Sylhet region.
The other is the so-called Subduction Zone, which stretches from hilly parts of Sylhet to Cox’s Bazar.
“No major earthquake shook both areas for a long time, resulting in force condensing near the fault plates. A major earthquake at least to 8.2-magnitude may shake the area anytime now as the India Plate [tectonic plate] is being thrust under the Burma Plate,” he said.
“An earthquake is imminent today, tomorrow or 50 years later.”
Prof Humayun also pointed out that the capital Dhaka, some major gas extraction fields and large industrial complexes are located quite closely near the faults, which raised the risk level quite significantly.
“In short, whatever element can increase the risk level in Dhaka during an earthquake is present nearby the possible epicentres.”
He also warned that Dhaka city’s unplanned urbanisation would cause “a humanitarian disaster”.
“At least 66 percent of total buildings in Dhaka weren’t built following earthquake preparedness codes. The unplanned urbanisation situation can’t be course-corrected overnight. That’s why I don’t see a way to minimise risk.”