A new study from the University of Colorado published in Nature says that “83% of all deaths from building collapse in earthquakes over the past 30 years occurred in countries that are anomalously corrupt.” It points out that the global construction industry in particular is the most corrupt segment of the global economy based on a recent report entitled: Global Construction 2020: A Global Forecast for the Construction Industry over the Next Decade to 2020 (http://www.globalconstruction2020.com/).
Corruption takes the form of bribes to subvert inspection and licensing processes, and of covert activities that reduce costs and thereby compromise the quality of structures. The assembly of a building, from the pouring of foundations to the final coat of paint, is a process of concealment, a circumstance ideally suited to the omission or dilution of expensive but essential structural components. (Nature Volume: 469, Pages: 153–155 Date published: (13 January 2011) DOI: doi:10.1038/469153a)
These compromises to building adequate structures have led to disaster in countries that have experienced massive earthquakes, such as Haiti. But corruption alone shouldn’t be seen as the sole culprit even though it is indeed a big one. If developing countries do not have the money to pay for building materials that can withstand earthquakes, little can be done and more lives will be lost. The role of engineering is incredibly important and both new and old building techniques need to be evaluated in regards to earthquakes.
In a presentation given at the When the Shaking Stops workshop in Durham University, a researcher from India highlighted an important case where an effective technique for reinforcing buildings to withstand earthquake impacts had been discovered in the past, but is now rarely used. I’m posting this screencast again from Prof Durgesh Rai of the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur. Shuffle to 00.23.39-00.24.27 for a brief introduction to this technique and also 00.26.42-00.30.41 for the problems of how to build structures resilient to earthquakes. Kanpur shows that this is no simple task because it requires expertise that is simply not available in India or many other developing countries.
If the global construction industry is as corrupt as researchers claim, then if countries are to make buildings resilient to future earthquake hazards risk management strategies may want to reflect on this. It is not only industry, but governments as well that must be held accountable for ensuring that corrupt construction practices that provide cheaper or more profitable alternatives are not allowed to increase the risk of losing human lives that otherwise could have been saved during an earthquake.
‘Corruption Kills.’ Nature Volume: 469, Pages: 153–155 Date published: (13 January 2011)
‘More corruption, more collapse in quakes.‘ Futurity.org