Build well to save lives in disasters, experts urge

Mon Mar 22, 2010 11:19am EDT
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By Olesya Dmitracova LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Attaching shutters to windows or embedding steel bars in new structures are some of the simple measure that should be employed to stop buildings from killing occupants in natural disasters, experts say.

Poor construction in Haiti was a major reason why so many people -- up to 300,000 according to the president -- died when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck the impoverished nation in January, architects and disaster specialists said.

And in quake-prone Chile where an earthquake and a subsequent tsunami killed about 500 people in February, the government is investigating to what extent rules on fortifying buildings against seismic shocks were followed.

"You don't need to be helpless, you can build safer, you can build better to reduce both the financial cost but of course also the life (cost)," Margareta Wahlstrom, U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction told Reuters by telephone.

"It's not the earthquake that kills people, it's the buildings that collapse in the earthquake."

While some countries put great emphasis on erecting buildings that can survive tropical storms, floods or earthquakes, many others lag far behind, she said.

Safe construction is not part of international development policies either, Wahlstrom said, adding that she hopes it will now be included after Haiti and Chile.

A step in that direction is a new handbook for rebuilding after natural disasters released by the World Bank last week.

Building well matters also because in the months and years after a disaster, reconstruction is where the biggest sums of international aid money go once emergency needs -- for tents, medicines and so on -- have been dealt with.   Continued...

<p>Volunteers work at the roof of a rebuilt house destroyed by hurricane Katrina at Pearlington, Mississippi, May 10, 2007. REUTERS/Carlos Barria</p>