Increasing resilience to earthquake risk in developing countries

Mother and child outside earthquake-ruined home, Bhaktapur, Nepal, 2015 (credit: Jules2013/iStock)

Estimates suggest that, by 2050, two billion people in developing nations will be exposed to serious earthquake risk. The research of James Jackson, Alex Copley and Keith Priestley has led to increased understanding of the hazard that earthquakes pose in continental regions away from tectonic plate boundaries: why they occur, what controls their size and recurrence rate, why people tend to live in areas prone to large earthquakes and what factors control the vulnerability of populations to these hazards.

The impact of their research has been to increase the resilience of developing countries to earthquake risk through the foundation of the international partnership Earthquakes without Frontiers (EwF), which developed from work with local collaborators across the Mediterranean-Himalayan-Asian earthquake belt.

EwF, founded by Jackson, has helped and encouraged organisations involved (such as in Nepal and elsewhere) in areas such as the retrofitting of buildings and the development of new building codes that have resulted in the development of safer and more resilient buildings. It has also guided improved hazard assessment, thereby reducing earthquake risk, and it has empowered in-country scientists, leading to improved public safety policy and a shift in the political understanding of managing earthquake risk.

As one example, in the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, 98% of the nearly 9,000 deaths were caused by collapsing buildings yet, in Kathmandu, 300 schools retrofitted to increase earthquake resilience by the National Society of Earthquake Technology (NSET) all survived. NSET said that its association with EwF helped raise its profile and increase its impact within Nepal.

Countries involved in EwF include Italy, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, India, Nepal and China. The population exposed to earthquakes in the 11 different countries in which EwF is active is 1 billion.

The research also allows safer and more cost-effective hydrocarbon exploration as a result of improved assessment of seismic hazard and risk in the Caspian region, an area which has attracted more than $50 billion of investment but which is at extreme risk of earthquakes.

“Collaborations through EwF have provided the possibility of identifying… and studying the active hidden Pardisan fault within the capital city of Tehran which was a major step in evaluating the earthquake hazard to Tehran.”

– Geological Survey of Iran