Over 900,000 Dhaka buildings at risk of collapse

Overview of Dhaka cityFile photo
  • Economic loss could mount to Tk 2.62 trillion

  • Dhaka, Sylhet, Mymensingh and Rangpur towns suffered a huge loss in the 8.7 magnitude earthquake in 1897

Dhaka city is at a risk of earthquake. Nearly 865,000 buildings would collapse in Dhaka city if an earthquake of 6.9 magnitude strikes at Madhupur fault in Tangail, near Dhaka. Nearly 210,000 people would die and another 229,000 would sustain injuries if the quake strikes at day time, said the report of a survey conducted by Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (RAJUK), a body that oversees whether buildings are constructed following codes.

The RAJUK report also said the economic loss would be close to US $25 billion, which is nearly Tk 2.62 trillion. The government will have to spend another $44 billion (Tk 4.62 trillion) for renovating and reconstructing the damaged buildings.

RAJUK conducted the survey as part of the Urban Resilience Project. World Bank funded the Tk 5.36 billion project and gave necessary technical support for the survey conducted at 1528 sq km area of Dhaka city.

The survey report would be presented at a meeting the housing and public works ministry organised at the secretariat on Wednesday. State minister for the housing and public works ministry, Sharif Ahmed, and secretaries to several ministries and disaster experts would also attend the programme.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, project director Abdul Latif Helali said, “For the first time such a large scale survey has been conducted in the country keeping the appalling aftermath of earthquake in mind. The survey was conducted for four years – from 2018 to 2022.”

RAJUK officials said Bangladesh is at risk of earthquake due to its geographical location. Two fault lines are there below Bangladesh. One is Madhupur fault line, which is closer to Dhaka, and another is Dauki fault line in Sylhet.

If an earthquake of 7.1 magnitude strikes at Dauki fault, nearly 40,935 buildings will collapse in Dhaka, said the survey report. Around 16,000 people would die and another 28,000 sustain injuries if it strikes in the day time. The economic loss of the quake would be of $5 billion (Tk 525 billion). About $7 billion (Tk 730 billion) would be required to renovate and reconstruct the damaged buildings, it added.

Experts said the number of deaths would be higher if the quake strikes at day time as more people stay at commercial buildings and factories. Constructing the buildings filling up marshy lands and violation of building codes have been identified as the primary reasons of the collapse of the buildings in Dhaka. Besides, the report added that many buildings in Dhaka have been constructed illegally.

The matter came into much discussion following the massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria border areas on 6 February. Over 55,000 people were killed in the quake that hit at around 4:15 am. According to UNDP, around 220,000 buildings collapsed in the quake and in economic value the loss was $100 billion (over Tk 10 trillion).

Quakes in Bangladesh

The ministry mentioned earthquakes that hit in Bangladesh in the past. It said Dhaka, Sylhet, Mymensingh and Rangpur towns suffered a huge loss in the 8.7 magnitude earthquake in 1897. Over 1,500 people died in that earthquake.

In 2021, minor earthquakes were felt seven times in Sylhet and thrice in Chattogram. Several such minor earthquakes were felt in Sylhet, Chattogram and Cox’s Bazar in the last year and early this year. The note said such recurring minor quakes forecast a bigger earthquake in the country.

Proposal for separate institute

RAJUK has proposed to set up a separate institute, Bangladesh Structural Risk and Resilience Institute (BSRRI), which would work specifically on doing research and building earthquake and natural disaster-resilient city and to provide post-earthquake engineering and technological services. The 10-storey headquarters of the BSRRI will be set up at Mohakhali, Dhaka.

Documents said proposed institute will likely have a 12-member board of directors that will be chaired by housing and public works ministry secretary.

Though various sides of the project would be discussed in the today’s meeting, analysts and concerned people have questions about the efficacy of the new institute. The concerned people said thousands of illegal buildings have been constructed though there is RAJUK in Dhaka city. That means having an institute is not enough.

They further said a new body means rise in the government’s expenditure and scope of newer positions for the bureaucrats. At the same time, new projects create scopes of corruption of people involved with it.

Mehedi Ahmed Ansary is a Professor of Department of Civil Engineering at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET). He was involved with the survey.

Speaking to Prothom Alo Mehedi Ahmed Ansary said, “The study was conducted over a long time to understand the appalling aftermath of earthquake in the country. The study was conducted to handover the findings to the politicians so that they could realise the danger of quake and draw up plans and take action in accordance with that.”

While talking about a new institute to curb the risks of earthquake, Mehedi Ahmed Ansary said, “The bureaucrats should not have any influence there. It has to be allowed to work independently.”

* The report has originally appeared in print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza