Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Do's and Don'ts of Risk Reduction

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Do's and Don'ts of Risk Reduction

Article excerpt

What individuals and societies can do to cut the toll of human and economic loss

The most effective disaster mitigation measure that can be taken at community level is for people not to build in high-risk areas such as unstable slopes, river beds or flood plains. Local knowledge about these hazards is usually good, especially among older people. Sometimes though, a hazard such as a geological fault is not obvious or visible, and surveyors and geologists have to be called in.

People can also ensure they reduce risks in their houses. Roofs should be secured against hurricanes. Roof shape is important for wind resistance. A flat roof is much more likely to be blown off than a pyramid-shaped one. Some worry about the cost of such measures, but they are no more than a small percentage of the total cost of the building and are well worth the investment.

Earthquake mitigation focuses on building codes, including correct use of steel and the strength of concrete mixes. Wooden buildings can be reinforced by braces and tying corners so as to make the structure react as a box.

Hazards in the home are not all structural. If you live in an earthquake-prone area, you should check the following:

* Are heavy objects like cabinets, TV stands and entertainment centres attached to the wall?

* Are heavy objects on the lowest shelves?

* Are water heaters and gas cylinders bolted to the wall?

* Do household members know how to turn off the gas, electricity and water supply?

* Are hanging objects such as fans and ceiling lights securely fastened?

* Are shelves fitted with wire or board to prevent objects falling off them during tremors?

* Are dangerous substances like fuel, poisons and chemicals secured against spillage?

* Are plate-glass windows and doors covered with safety film to prevent shattering?

At the national level, governments should include mitigation in their disaster management policies. Zoning and land use laws should ensure there are no buildings in an area likely to be flooded, say, once every thirty years. Golf courses and parks could be built there instead. Steep slopes would be left as wooded areas.

But planners and policy makers do not usually have this freedom. Many rivers already flow through towns, so mitigation will take the form of reducing loss of life and damage after a flood. Ground floors can be designated non-sleeping areas, levees can be built and flood warning systems and evacuation plans can be developed.

Building codes should be drafted and where they already exist, should be reviewed and strengthened. They should ensure that buildings can survive a 7 magnitude earthquake or 200 km/h winds.

* Standards of safety

Many buildings were put up before codes were drafted, so they need to be "retrofitted" by strengthening. This is more expensive than building to resistant standards. Large public buildings and bridges are prime candidates for retrofitting. But small traditional buildings should be strengthened too. Much work has been done on this in India and Peru. Chicken mesh and mortar has been effective in reinforcing walls of adobe-type buildings against earthquake damage.

Emergency facilities such as hospitals, police stations and shelters, along with water, electricity and sewage systems, must also be able to remain functional after a disaster. They should be designed to a higher standard of safety than other buildings and retrofitted where necessary. …

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