Indonesia needs earthquake resistant houses. Building them is a big challenge

Indonesia needs earthquake resistant houses.  Building them is a big challenge
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Deadly earthquake that reduced buildings to rubble West Java, Indonesia once again revealed the dangers of living in poorly constructed homes in one of the most seismically active zones on the planet.

Since Monday’s quake, survivors have been sleeping in shelters or away from homes at risk of collapse as the 5.9-magnitude quake, which killed at least 310 people, shook buildings, according to the head of the country’s National Disaster Management Agency. BNPB).

Another 24 people are missing, Lieutenant General Suharyanto said on Friday.

According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the quake’s shallow depth – just 10 kilometers (6 miles) – increased pressure on structures in West Java, where more than a million people were hit by the powerful tremors.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who visited the site on Tuesday, promised that the damaged houses – more than 56,000 of them – would be rebuilt to make them earthquake-resistant.

“Houses affected by this earthquake are required by the Minister of Public Works and Housing to use earthquake-resistant construction standards. “These earthquakes happen every 20 years. Therefore, the houses should be earthquake-resistant.”

But in the developing country, where about 43% of the population lives in rural areas, mostly in unsafe and poorly constructed houses, building earthquake-resistant buildings remains a major challenge.

More than 61,000 people were displaced on Thursday, according to the National Emergency Management Agency (BNPB), and experts say the damage can be mitigated through proper infrastructure.

A man reacts as rescuers search for victims in an area hit by landslides after Monday's earthquake in Cianjur, West Java, Indonesia, Nov. 22, 2022.

Indonesia, an archipelagic nation of more than 270 million people, sits along the Ring of Fire, home to the most active volcanoes around the Pacific Ocean and the site of the most earthquakes, when tectonic plates collide and cause tremors.

At least 100 of the 310 people killed in Monday’s earthquake were children, many of whom were at school when it struck. A 6 year old boy two days later, he was pulled out alive from under the rubble of his house, but many others were not so lucky.

The earthquake shook the foundations of the buildings, caused the collapse of concrete structures and the collapse of roofs. The photos show scraps of metal, wood and bricks. According to Ridwan Kamil, the governor of West Java province, most of the dead were crushed or buried under the rubble. Others died in landslides.

Cleo Gaida Salima said that when she heard about the earthquake, she tried to call her mother in Cugenang, Cianjur, but when she didn’t answer, she decided to go there by motorbike from her home in Bandung.

The journey – about 65 kilometers (40 miles) – usually takes less than two hours. However, he is 24 years old because the roads were completely blocked due to landslides.

“All the houses were covered with soil and mud,” said the woman, saying that she was reunited with her family who survived the earthquake.

“We all cried with emotion and happiness,” she said. “Our whole family immediately went outside to save themselves. The earthquake was very strong.”

An Indonesian search and rescue team evacuates bodies from collapsed buildings in Cianjur Regency, West Java Province on November 22, 2022.

Houses in Indonesia were traditionally built from organic building materials, including wood, bamboo and thatch, due to the country’s hot and humid climate.

These were considered durable houses and are mostly durable during an earthquake. However, according to a 2009 study by the Architectural Science Association on post-disaster reconstruction in Indonesia, increasing deforestation and the high cost of wood have led people to choose alternative materials.

More and more houses were built of brick and concrete, and while the facade looked modern, the construction underneath was poorly done, the study said.

In addition, the poor quality of concrete and weak steel reinforcement make these structures more susceptible to collapse during an earthquake – while also sustaining maximum injuries due to the weight of the materials, the report said.

A man stands next to damaged houses after an earthquake in Cianjur, West Java province, Indonesia, November 21, 2022.

Earthquake-resistant structures are designed to protect buildings from collapse and can work in two ways: by making buildings stronger or more flexible so they sway and slide over shaking ground rather than collapsing.

Architects have been developing this technology for decades, and engineers often adapt materials and techniques to the region.

Architect Martijn Schildkamp, ​​founder and director of Smart Shelter Consultancy, said his company helped build about 20 schools in the earthquake-prone city of Pokhara in central Nepal seven years before the big earthquake.

More than 8,000 people died in the 2015 earthquake, but the schools, which were built with traditional techniques and materials from the landscape like rubble masonry, did not collapse.

“Our schools are not destroyed,” I said. “They just got a little bit of cosmetic damage.”

According to him, the knowledge, infrastructure and money to build earthquake-resistant buildings are readily available in developed countries like Japan, but the high cost of building such structures makes it difficult in developing countries.

Many people in Nepal build their houses with mud mortar, which is very fragile, Schildkamp said. “If it is not fully reinforced, there is no additional reinforcement in the building. It will collapse very easily,” he said.

Schildkamp’s team used cement mortar and placed horizontal reinforcing poles instead of vertical ones to strengthen the structure.

Building codes are supposed to prevent the proliferation of poorly built structures, but in some countries, not enough is being done by governments to enforce the rules, Schildkamp said.

“We need knowledge and strategy in these countries. We need governments to make these building codes mandatory.”

Hopes of rescuing more people from the rubble of the earthquake in West Java are fading.

Earthquakes also complicate efforts, and residents now live in fear that the next disaster will topple their unstable homes again.

Although President Widodo said the government would provide compensation of up to about $3,200 each to the owners of badly damaged houses, many families in Cianjur lost everything. Now they face a nearly impossible task of rebuilding.

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