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Last Updated: Monday, 14 March 2005, 12:10 GMT
Quake experts urge Tehran move
By Frances Harrison
BBC News, Tehran

Scientists in Iran are urging the government to move the capital out of Tehran.

The Iranian citadel of Bam after the 2003 earthquake
The Bam earthquake was caused by a concealed fault, scientists say

The city, which lies on at least 100 known fault lines could be hit by a major earthquake, they say.

The UN rates Iran as the number one country in the world for earthquakes - whether measured in intensity, frequency or the number of casualties.

In December 2003 a quake in Bam killed about 30,000 people and, in February 2005, more than 500 people died in the Zarand area in another quake.

Experts say on average there's a small earthquake every day in Iran.

Capital move

Tehran is home to more than 12 million people, but few of the buildings have been made to withstand even an earthquake measuring 6 on the Richter scale.

"Tehran must be rebuilt; if not it should be moved," says Dr Bahram Akasheh, a geophysicist at Tehran University.

"Either we have to put up with millions of dead, millions of injured, or we need to move the capital somewhere else and take steps to decrease the population here and make Tehran more resistant to earthquakes," he warns.

According to Dr Akasheh's calculations, there is a 90% chance of an earthquake measuring 6 on the Richter scale hitting Tehran and a 50% chance of an earthquake measuring 7.5 striking the capital.

The only problem is he cannot say when.


"We have to take the issue of earthquakes seriously," he says.

Two women look at the devastated remains of the Iranian citadel of Bam.

He says Iranians are too fatalistic, believing whatever happens to be God's will.

Instead, Dr Akasheh believes, they should use the skills God gave them to build homes resistant to quakes.

Indeed hardly any of the buildings in Tehran are made to withstand a major quake despite the city's recent major construction boom.

Increasingly, estate agents say customers are worried about whether buildings are safe but it is hard to know for certain without getting a full structural survey.

"I couldn't find a place which I could think of living in without worrying," says electrical engineer Mohammed Serpooshan.

He has just bought an old house with the intention of knocking it down and rebuilding it to be earthquake safe.

"The only way is to start from scratch - that is find a place and build on it myself, applying the necessary standards myself because there's no other choice."

'Move the government'

Mr Serpooshan says he is prepared to go to all this trouble because, ultimately, the lives of his family are at stake.

While this is a possibility for some, it is impossible for the government to refit or rebuild all the public buildings in Tehran - it would simply be too expensive.

Mohammed Serpooshan
Mr Serpooshan built his own home to withstand a quake
The government has announced it will renovate 200,000 rural buildings every year but this is a drop in the ocean in a country with nearly 70 million people, where every major city except Isfahan lies in a seismic zone.

More than half the buildings in Iran are thought to be non-reinforced masonry structures.

"The best way... is to drag the government out of Tehran and put it not far away," says Mr Hosseini, a structural engineer at the International Institute of Earthquake Engineering and Seismology in Tehran.

He says there is still space to build satellite towns in safer areas and if some government ministries move outside the capital, others will be drawn out.

Mr Hosseini says he has suggested postgraduate engineering students research new techniques for strengthening old buildings to reinforce them against earthquakes.

So far government efforts have focused on training exercises.

Raising awareness

Experts believe that being prepared can save up to a third of lives in an earthquake so it is well worth the effort.

Millions of school children are trained to dive under desks if an earthquake strikes and then shown how to evacuate the injured.

There are songs about quakes and even cartoons.

But the problem for the government is how hard to push the message.

The worry is that the warnings will alarm people and the government will then have to tell them that there is insufficient money to rebuild their homes and offices.

After the 2003 earthquakes in Bam and the Zarand earthquake in February 2005 there were calls to learn lessons for the future.

But many experts complain that the tendency has been to take the quake threat seriously only when the memory of the latest disaster is still fresh in peoples' minds.

"The hope that I have is that this sort of attention does not wane in the near future," says Mr Hosseini.

He adds that it might be a good idea to pray to God to have more minor earthquakes so as to keep the awareness high.

"Not to kill people but just to warn them that the earthquake is saying 'Be careful, I am here' ."

Eyewitness: Iran earthquake
23 Feb 05 |  Middle East
Hundreds killed in Iranian quake
22 Feb 05 |  Middle East
Deadly history of earthquakes
22 Feb 05 |  Special Reports
Survivors recall Iran quake loss
25 Dec 04 |  Middle East
Iran rescuers aid quake victims
29 May 04 |  Middle East
Starting from scratch in Bam
02 Jan 04 |  Middle East


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