Iran is one of the most seismically active countries in the world, being crossed by several major fault lines that cover at least 90 percent of the country.
The UN rates Iran as the number one country in the world for earthquakes - whether measured in intensity, frequency or the number of casualties.
Since the beginning of the 20th century about 125,000 people have lost their lives in frequent earthquakes in Iran and two times of this number have been maimed and many more displaced.
Since the destructive earthquake flattened the southeastern city of Bam in December 2003 the Construction Engineering Organization enforced stricter seismic codes, though the regulations in some cases are not fully observed.
Since that date postgraduate engineering students have stepped up research for designing quake-resistant buildings and using light construction materials.
In 2006 Parliament also approved a law allowing the Ministry of Education to withdraw 4 billion dollars from the National Development Fund to renovate schools to make them resistant against strong tremors though the project is moving at a snail’s speed as the government releases the budget in drops.
Tehran governor Morteza Tamadon also announced last autumn that more than 50 percent of old hospitals in Tehran are being renovated to make them withstand quakes.
However, more and more efforts are needed to be done in the vast country of Iran to make earthquake proof buildings.
During Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency the government granted low-interest loans to applicants in villages to build quake-resistant homes.
For example, on July 9 Urban Development and Transport Minister Ali Nikzad announced that during Ahmadinejad’s eight-year presidency efforts started to build 2,120,000 homes in villages which 1,600,000 of them have been completed.
Nikzad said the quake that struck Rigan in southeastern province of Kerman in December 2010, was as strong as the one that hit the city of Bam in 2003, yet since new homes had been built in villages the quake caused little damage.
However what unnerves minds is the possibility of a strong earthquake in Tehran with a 12 million population. For a long time, Iranian and Japanese seismologists have warned that in the wake of a massive earthquake in the metropolis of Tehran, it would create a huge human catastrophe.
Northern Tehran is sitting on a major fault line about 47 miles long and about 100 smaller fractures.
There is daily seismic activity in Tehran.
Moreover, the soil in some parts of Tehran, in which houses are built on, is either too soft or too brittle which make them vulnerable to quake.
A quake in Tehran in 1830, thought to have measured 7 on the Richter scale, killed 45,000. In that quake most of the damage was done to buildings stretched up to 100 km to the east of Tehran.
Upon an advice by seismologists, measures have been taken by the government to reduce destruction and casualties in case of an earthquake in Tehran.
For instance, in recent years the Tehran Municipality has started an important project of demolishing small and dilapidated buildings in Tehran, especially in southern neighborhoods of the capital, and constructing quake-resistant apartments in place of them with wider streets and alleys.
On June 27, Iranian seismologist Bahram Akasheh warned that if a quake with a magnitude of 7.5 on the Richter scale jolts Tehran, it will set a record in the number of killed and injured.
He said studies show “83 percent” of cities in Iran are vulnerable to earthquake and that cities are built in places near or on fault lines.
Akasheh added in 1986 he warned about the consequences of an earthquake in Tehran and immediately the Supreme National Security Council “requested me to back up my reasons and I gave my reasons and suggestions in this regard.”
He said at the time he suggested that a shadow government be established, a crisis management headquarters be set up for Tehran, and studies be conducted to move the capital.
The seismologist said in 2004 the Tehran Municipality was tasked to establish crisis management headquarters to deal with a possible quake. He added now crisis management headquarters have been established throughout the country.
Akasheh put forward some suggestions how to deal with quakes:
* having a plan to cope with quake;
* Deep understanding of crisis arising from quake;
* Defining the role of people before and after quake;
* Training students from primary school up to university;
* Performing quake drills based on international standards;
* Producing films related to quake;
* Broadcasting TV programs on quake;
* Publishing articles in mass media, including newspapers.
Officials must take the issue of earthquake in the country, especially in the metropolis of Tehran, very seriously. It is a matter of death and life. What has been done so far is a drop in the ocean in the big country of Iran with 76 million people.
Councilors in cities, especially in Tehran, who supervise the performance of municipalities, should primarily focus on reinforcement of buildings against earthquakes. For them, the strengthening of buildings should take precedence over everything, even air pollution.
Responsible bodies must also show no leniency in enforcing seismic codes.
It is only through such steps that families can go to bed without being worried about earthquake.
Ali Asghar Pahlavan is a Tehran Times journalist.
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