Dhaka buildings at high risk of earthquake in absence of monitoring

RAJUK Bhaban
File photo

Buildings in Dhaka city metropolitan are at high risk of earthquakes Rajdhani Unnayan Kartipakkha (RAJUK) does not check if these structures are being earthquake-resilient.

Moreover, the buildings built in landfills are riskier as loose soil increases the intensity of earthquakes.

Soil tests under the Urban Resilience Project of RAJUK revealed this, according to RAJUK officials involved in the approval of buildings.

In this circumstance, experts fear huge damage if an earthquake like Turkey occurs.

Project officials said buildings on 65 per cent of areas in Dhaka and its surroundings are at high risk of earthquake as the buildings have been constructed there on landfills.

Urban Resilience Project was undertaken in 2015 to increase capacity of the government and non-government organisations and to improve the quality of constructing new buildings. The project will end in October. It is being implemented at a cost of Tk 5.37 billion. The government is providing Tk 351.5 million while the World Bank is providing the rest.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, project director and RAJUK former chief engineer Abdul Latif Helali said soil collected from 1,825 spots under RAJUK has been tested in five ways. More than 10 lab tests have been carried out.

It has been ascertained that the areas filled with sand are at high risk of earthquakes.

42 buildings to be demolished

A national plan was formulated in 2010 to reduce disaster risk and later it was reviewed in 2019.

As per the plan, RAJUK will carry out surveys to identify risky buildings and establishments in Dhaka and make a list. But the organisation has not done it in 12 years.

However, under the Urban Resilience Project, a survey was carried out in 3252 buildings and after Rana Plaza collapsed 3500 factories. But there is no survey on residential buildings.

Under the Resilience Project, surveys are carried out in government and autonomous organisations. These include 2705 educational institutions, 207 hospitals, 36 thanas and 304 other buildings.

Project officials said 'rapid visual assessment' has been carried out on 3252 buildings through a list of 60 questions. It is found that no building will sustain if an earthquake like Turkey occurs.

Of the buildings, a preliminary engineering assessment was carried out on 579 buildings. It is found that some 42 buildings are highly risky. So a recommendation was made to demolish 42 buildings.

RAJUK chairman Anisur Rahman Mia said owners of buildings have been sent letters to demolish the buildings. Survey on private buildings will be carried out once the survey on the government buildings is done.

Risky buildings include Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), Dhaka University, Jahangirnagar University, Jagannath University, Education Engineering Directorate, Public Health Engineering Directorate, Local Government Engineering Directorate and Madrassa Board.

Besides, a recommendation has been made to rectify 187 buildings after carrying out a detailed engineering assessment.

About the letter, BSMMU VC Md Sharfuddin Ahmed said he has not received any such letter. Immediate steps would be taken if any instruction comes from RAJUK, he added.

RAJUK does not consider security

Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) civil engineering department professor Mehedi Ahmed Ansary said every building in Dhaka has to be assessed to know what magnitude of earthquake will cause how much damage.

RAJUK has to ensure that the buildings are built with earthquake resilience. But they are careless about it.

RAJUK chairman Anisur Rahman Mia said overall security measures including earthquake, structural design, mechanical, electrical and firefighting will be taken into consideration while approving the buildings in Mirpur-3 and 4 regions from next month. The system will be applied in the entire RAJUK area from May.

Several RAJUK building inspectors said they only look into whether the building is being constructed in a designated place. After the construction whether the building is risk-free or risky is not taken into consideration, the officials added.

Seeking anonymity, an inspector said there are signatures of an architect and civil engineer in the building design submitted to RAJUK. After approval of this design by RAJUK, in accordance with Bangladesh National Building Code, these two people are ethically responsible to ensure structural design and its implementation. RAJUK has a scope to file a case against the engineer if this is not followed. Information has not been found regarding cases filed against any engineer for ignoring structural design.

According to a survey carried out between January and August of 2018, 94.76 per cent of buildings in Mirpur, Mohammadpur and Pollabi, 97 per cent in Rampura, Motijheel and Khilgaon and 89 per cent of buildings in Dhanmondi have been built violating RAJUK design.

Bangladesh Institute of Planners (BIP) president Mohammad Fazle Reza said RAJUK is supposed to collect clearance certificates from technical persons in every step after taking approval of construction. They don't do so.. So there is no scope to say that the buildings approved by RAJUK are earthquake resilient.

Why two-thirds of areas in Dhaka are at high risk

According to RAJUK documents, 10 housing companies adjacent to Turag River have filled about 7000 acres of low land. This land is being sold as plots.

Experts said soil in the landfills is soft and this increases the intensity of earthquakes. High quality materials have to be used to construct buildings on soft soil otherwise the building may be damaged in an earthquake.

Geologist professor Syed Humayun Akhtar said it is the responsibility of RAJUK to identify which buildings are risky and which are risk-free. In coordination with geologists and engineers, RAJUK should do the work. However, RAJUK has a deficiency in this regard.

*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print and online editions, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.