The use of below-par steel products appeared to be a major reason behind hundreds of deaths caused by a devastating earthquake that rattled Philippines’s island provinces of Bohol and Cebu on October 15, 2013. At least 222 people were reported killed and over 970 others wounded in the calamity, masterly, because of the collapsed building structures.
Karachi too is believed to have gathered all the odds that, someday, may lead the city of 20 million to end up in a mega disaster, especially in case of a quake. Besides Karachi, other major cities of Pakistan like Islamabad and Quetta too are lying on major earthquake fault lines. This financial capital of Pakistan sits near the convergence of Eurasian, Arabian and Indian tectonic plates, making it an area particularly prone to seismic disturbances, its increased but unregulated high-rise building structures are posing a permanent threat to the safety of millions. And earthquakes stand no news for Pakistan having braved over 50 earthquakes of magnitude of 8 and above in the last 75 years hitting the country’s coastline. Four of the earthquakes that shook Pakistan in 1919, 1943, 1945 and 1956 were accompanied by tsunamis. In January 2012, Karachiites had felt the heat when a 7.2 magnitude earthquake had jolted Balochistan’s Dalbandin town situated some 400 kilometers away from Karachi. Moreover, the quake’s epicenter was 80 kilometers underground.
The 2013 disaster in Philippines also was of the same 7.2 magnitude that had grounded thousands of structures. The Philippines investigators later blamed the poor quality steel products used during construction for increased human casualties in the natural disaster.
Philippines’ authorities, reportedly, were convinced that there was a widespread use of substandard bars and angle bars in the construction of residential structures and public buildings such as markets and bridges in Philippines that couldn’t resist the earthquake resulting in loss of hundreds of humans. Aquino, the chair of the Senate Committee on Trade, Commerce and Entrepreneurship, was quoted saying that the number of lives lost and people injured would not have been that big, had the structures been more solidly built.
Pakistani engineers are fully aware of the fact that Karachi lies on the fault line and is prone to earthquake disaster. This, they believe, require the building control authorities to ensure that the buildings constructed here must be strong enough to resist shocks with use of specific building materials such as steel and cement as basic. Presently, two types of steel products are available in the local market: One, that made of steel bars manufactured by proper steel mills. Two, made of different kind of steel scraps.
The engineering experts warn against the use of substandard steel in the construction of buildings, especially the high-rise ones, in this densely populated metropolis. Doing so, they believe, could prove to be destructive in case of a strike by the nature. In Pakistan, unfortunately, laws to regulate building standards are in place but the implementation thereof is questionable. Engineers, architects and builders are, therefore, urged to perform their duty and keep every kind of unforeseen scenario in mind while constructing buildings even if the authorities concerned are not enforcing the rules and regulations.
The 2005 earthquake made the Government of Pakistan to add more seismic provisions to the Pakistan Building Code 1986, making the piece of law compatible with the US Uniform Building Code, 1997. The building control authorities, however, have long been lamenting that like many other laws the Building Code too mostly remains fulfilled on papers.
With the number of apartment buildings and plazas growing consistently in the multi-ethnic city, one can hardly find a builder having a clear idea of what earthquake protection is all about. As a consequence, most of the city’s apartment buildings are lacking in proper safety measures against the earthquakes.
Worrisome, however, is the fact that while major cities of Pakistan are lying at the risk of a devastating natural disaster like earthquakes and the ensuing tsunamis, the country’s quality control authorities have reportedly, been showing a criminal negligence by allowing the production and marketing of sub-standard steel bars.
The Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA) has long been under media criticism for its perceived failure to enforce the approved quality standards in the production and marketing of steel. The Authority, reportedly, has been issuing temporary release certificates against the import of non-licensed steel bars from non-certified foreign steel manufacturers.
This is despite the fact that the PSQCA itself has declared that the ASTM 615, 706 and BS4449 standards are the only allowable rebars to be used in construction activities to ensure the safety of infrastructure. If this continues, the engineering experts believe, this crises-hit country of 200 million would never be able to achieve human safety, thanks to vested interest who endanger the lives of innocent people to pocket hefty profits through selling sub-standard steel products.
Realizing this situation in country, Agha Steel becomes the first Pakistani company to introduce ‘ASTM A706 Grade 60’ steel in the local market, which is Earth Quake resistant approved steel according to American Standards. Construction experts recommend ASTM 706 grade in the earthquake prone areas like Karachi due to its advanced seismic resistant properties and realizing the responsibility of steel sector to manufacture earthquake resistant steel, Agha Steel Industries, one of the largest private steel mill, has finally introduced ‘ASTM 706 grade’ which has proven to have higher strength and ductility as well as high fatigue resistance to seismic loads due to its higher Ultimate Tensile Strength to Yield Strength ratio.
Steel is essential for constructing any structure and if applied smartly using quality rebars, it can assure ductility of the structure and consequently protect and save precious human lives. Therefore it is very vital that steel used in construction should be conforming to international grades.
According to Geological Survey of Pakistan, entire Sindh coastline including Karachi is in a zone of seismic danger. Karachi is very close to major fault line. Metropolitan cities like Karachi could have grave effects if God forbid any such earthquake occurs due to usage of substandard steel bars in building structures and other infrastructures. For that purpose, planning commission and relevant authorities must ensure that the building and other infrastructures build top quality standard rebars to minimize the risks. Pakistan has suffered valuable human loss because of earthquakes in the past yet no formidable strategy has been made till today. It is the need of time for authorities to focus on quality grade rebars and implements rigorous procedures for steel manufacturers to produce steel grades conforming to international grades. (AB)