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UWI Seismic Research Centre director: New call for national building code

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Director of the St Augustine Campus of the University of the West Indies’ Seismic Research Centre Dr Richard Robertson has called for the speedy formulation of a national building code to ensure all buildings are earthquake resilient. In fact, he said, T&T simply could not afford to delay any further on the code because scientists have warned that if a major earthquake were to strike locally there would be mass destruction and loss of lives.



In a phone interview, Robertson said, “In the absence of a building code there is a lot of leeway for people to construct things in any way. You need regulations.” Robertson said in a news release last week that recent research indicated that economic damage of US$5 billion and US$6 billion, respectively, for Port-of-Spain and San Fernando could occur as a result of a magnitude 7.5 earthquake.


His plea for urgency might be of little effect as it has been two years since the appointment of the National Building Code Committee and funds are yet to be released for the formulation of the code, though Cabinet approved $12 million for the formulation of the code last year. Robertson said that should be addressed. “We are saying that the stumbling blocks need to be moved out of the way so that we could proceed. The longer it takes for us to proceed in this regard, the longer it takes to get to the stage where T&T is resilient. 


All the development we have happening now, it would be in jeopardy in the future if we do not get these regulations in place, get them enforced and get people committed to moving forward,” he lamented. Robertson said the building code was really one element of a comprehensive strategy needed to build resilience. He said there were lines of evidence that suggested that T&T could have a large potentially damaging seismic event which could set it country back.


“Every day that we have not moved forward is a day longer than necessary,” he said. He said, in the release, the current estimates of seismic hazard suggested the likelihood of being killed by an earthquake in the next 50 years was comparable to the likelihood of being murdered in that same period, given the current murder rate and current estimate of the seismic hazard. “We need appropriate building codes backed by legislation. Earthquakes do not kill people, buildings do,” Robertson said


He said T&T was in an area of high earthquake activity for the Caribbean and scientific evidence indicated that the islands were likely to experience a large-magnitude earthquake sooner rather than later.



Chairman: committee waiting on funds


Building code committee chairman Shyankaran Lalla told the T&T Guardian via SMS, the committee was still waiting on funds. He said the code was even more critical now that the Planning and Facilitation Act would come into effect. The act, he said, could not work without a building code. “The undue delay in the disbursement of funding for the development of a national building code is delaying the delivery of the code which sets minimum standards for the protection of the health safety and welfare of our citizens,” he said. 


Lalla said the SRC kept warning the country of an impending disaster and it should be taken seriously. “Haiti failed to heed warnings of seismologists and we all know what the result was. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to reduce the risk associated with disasters by developing and enforcing the requirements of a building code. “We must take action with a sense of urgency before it is too late,” he declared. 



Minister: Govt committed to code

Housing and Urban Development Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal assured that Government was committed to the formulation of a national building code. He expressed confidence that the 2014 deadline for the code would be met. “We continue to work with the Building Code committee. We have had some institutional difficulties among the state partners in recent times which led to a slowing down of the work, but I am assured that by next week we will be on full steam and intend to meet our 2014 deadline,” he said via text message. 


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