Building seismic resilience in Pakistan: 15 years after the 2005 earthquake

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Pakistan traverses a web of active geological fault lines. Photo: Shutterstock.com
Pakistan traverses a web of active geological fault lines. Photo: Shutterstock.com

Fifteen years ago, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake devastated northern Pakistan.  Over 70,000 lives were lost and the country suffered economic losses equivalent to 2.6 percent of its GDP. October 8, 2005, commemorated since as National Resilience Day in Pakistan, triggered a paradigm shift in the country’s approach- from disaster response to disaster risk management. 

Since the 2005 earthquake, Pakistan has developed legal, policy, and institutional frameworks for disaster risk management, including the establishment of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Provincial Disaster Management Authorities (PDMAs), and District Disaster Management Authorities (DDMAs) at the sub-national levels.

However seismic risks in Pakistan, a country that traverses a web of active geological fault lines, have only increased.  According to the World Bank’s assessment, if the 2005 earthquake were to occur today,  it could cost nearly twice as much - $2.8 billion- in damages to residential properties alone. 

October 8, 2005 triggered a paradigm shift in Pakistan's approach- from disaster response to disaster risk management

Moreover, the current density and quality of Pakistan’s built environment amplify its vulnerabilities to seismic hazards.  According to Dr. Sarosh Lodi of NED University of Engineering and Technology, the country’s building stock consists of about two-thirds brick masonry construction, with only 8 percent of buildings using reinforced concrete. This makes Pakistan far more vulnerable to earthquakes than countries such as Cyprus, Iran, and Armenia that have similar levels of exposure to seismic hazards. Local building regulations, or bylaws, rarely adhere to building codes, and even in areas with more robust bylaws, enforcement is problematic.

To enhance its resilience to natural disasters and sustain inclusive growth, Pakistan will need to assess seismic vulnerabilities, identify high-risk structures, and implement comprehensive seismic risk management programs.  These techno-legal programs will need to bridge policy, regulation, and practice by enabling legislative reforms, updating building codes, and strengthening implementation mechanisms, including capacity-building and public engagement.

 

 

The World Bank is actively engaged with the Government of Pakistan on its seismic resilience agenda. Last October, with funding from the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), it arranged a knowledge exchange event for a delegation of decision-makers and practitioners from Pakistan to study the emergency and disaster risk management systems established by Turkey’s government after the 1999 Marmara earthquakes. The knowledge exchange built upon the historically collaborative relationship between Pakistan and Turkey by sharing ideas and expertise to make both countries more resilient against natural disasters. 

To foster cross-sector collaboration and coordination, the Pakistan delegation was carefully drawn from a wide variety of federal and provincial government agencies, technical organizations, and academia, consisting of representatives from the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), National Disaster Risk Management Fund (NDRMF), representatives of provincial governments, Pakistan Engineering Council, Capital Development Authority, Sindh Building Control Authority, and the NED University of Engineering and Technology.

The knowledge exchange enabled learning from and sharing experiences on emergency and disaster risk management based on best practices in Turkey, such as earthquake master plans, institutional and organizational frameworks, and retrofitting critical infrastructure. It also helped the participants analyze the challenges Pakistan faces in managing seismic risks and discuss options to address them.

Pakistan will need to assess seismic vulnerabilities, identify high-risk structures, and implement comprehensive risk management programs

The Pakistan delegation agreed on the need to act now to mitigate seismic risks. Notably, based on discussions during this study tour, the Pakistan Engineering Council initiated the update of Building Code of Pakistan - Seismic Provisions 2007. This updated building code is a critical element for enhancing the seismic resilience of future infrastructure investments, but will also need to be coupled with effective enforcement mechanisms, along with assessments of and retrofits for existing infrastructure.

While the magnitude of the challenge is daunting, there are clear, tangible actions that can be taken to reduce seismic risks in Pakistan today, with a focus on both soft and hard interventions. First, structural innovations, such as retrofits- modifying existing structures to make them more resistant- can enhance the resilience of existing public infrastructure, especially schools and hospitals in vulnerable areas . Second, these risk reduction investments can be complemented with measures that enhance capacities for emergency communication, information management, and response. Third, all buildings, not just priority public buildings, can be made more resilient by better enforcing building codes and land-use regulations. 

This comprehensive, multi-pronged approach renews a commitment to the intention of National Resilience Day by ensuring that Pakistan is better prepared before the next earthquake strikes.

Authors

Ella Kim

Disaster Risk Management Specialist

Bilal Khalid

Disaster Risk Management Analyst

Elif Ayhan

Senior Disaster Risk Management Specialist

Ahsan Tehsin

Senior Disaster Risk Management Specialist

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