A famous documentary movie about a devastating earthquake shows the part of a wall of a battered building standing as the lone surviving structure. The film was made in the late 1960s. The scene shows collapsed houses and piles of debris everywhere. The eerily standing wall with a clock stuck to it demonstrates the horrific destructive nature of the earthquake that struck the large city.
Dhaka hasn't experienced a major quake yet. It felt only mild jolts of the great Assam-Bengal Earthquake in 1897. That did not leave much devastating impact on Dhaka, which was then a largely sleepy town with a handful of concrete structures. One hundred twenty years after the massive earthquake, Dhaka is now a mega city. Filled with hundreds of high-rises and multi-storey apartment complexes and commercial buildings, Dhaka has long been termed a concrete jungle. Apart from the city centre, the suburbs on all its sides are also unabatedly being filled with ill planned and nakedly unplanned tall buildings. Despite the government's stance on the prerequisites of quake-tolerant structural measures, few building owners meet them. In the event of a major earthquake, what a spectacle of deaths and destructions might unfold in Dhaka is understandable. Experts are unanimous in their view that after a big earthquake, parts of Dhaka will turn into massive piles of rubble. Hundreds of people will meet their untimely deaths being hit and trapped indefinitely in destroyed buildings.
This terrible picture of a post-quake Dhaka was portrayed scathingly at a discussion in the city recently.
The speakers at the programme observed Dhaka's vulnerability to earthquakes and the trail of devastation it will leave. The programme was jointly organised by Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC), SEEDS Asia, that works on disasters, in Dhaka recently. The extent of devastation caused by an earthquake of 7.5 or 8.0 on Richter scale would be enormous making the authorities bewildered in the tasks of rescue and other emergencies, the meeting noted.
While presenting this grim post-earthquake scenario of the capital, the DNCC mayor aptly focused on the havoc feared to be wrought on the city's buildings. Citing a government report, he said 75,000 of the affected buildings would collapse in the calamity leading to thousands of deaths and injuries. He felt puzzled to think whether the city was prepared enough to tackle the impact of a major earthquake when managing the Rana Plaza collapse on the outskirts of Dhaka took months for the authorities.
That Dhaka has turned into an earthquake-prone mega city since the closing of the last century is now a dreadful reality. The minor tremors in the city and other parts of the country over the period have been viewed by seismologists as precursor to a major disaster. Many experts view the calamity to be imminent for Dhaka. Against this backdrop, the observations at the programme on the launch of a report on 'urban disaster resilience assessment' have once again added to the gravity of the issue. That a big earthquake will bring the metropolis face to face with a daunting rescue operation is being harped upon repeatedly. It sends chill down the spine if one just thinks of the great logistic and infrastructural mess that would follow an earthquake of high magnitude. As has been recommended several times before, it is only effective preparedness that can help keep the damages and casualties to a minimum after such a disaster. Meanwhile, sham preparedness that results from the ritualistic discussions goes on without pause.