Bam Quake Lessons Not Learnt

Bam Quake Lessons Not LearntBam Quake Lessons Not Learnt

A s people gathered on Friday (December 26) to mark the 10th anniversary of the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami, in another corner of the world, Iranians remembered the 11th anniversary of Bam earthquake on the same day. The earthquake was particularly destructive leaving the historic town in southeastern Iran almost ruined. The death toll was huge numbering 26,271 people, with 30,000 injured. For years after the earthquake, many of the victims still suffer psychologically.

The most widely accepted estimate for the magnitude of the earthquake was 6.6; the effects of the earthquake were exacerbated by the use of mud brick as the standard construction medium. A large number of schools were affected by the tremor with an estimated  10,000 students and 1,200 teachers among those killed.

A turning point was the establishment of a new institutional framework to address problems of urban planning. The government became more serious not only to rebuild the city in compliance with seismic regulations, but also to enforce earthquake engineering principles more strictly to all constructions in the quake-prone country.

Meetings and debates in the aftermath of the catastrophe led to the creation of an ad hoc agency. The committee is now operating under the designation of National Disaster Management Organization of Iran (NDMOI).

On the anniversary of the Bam quake, officials and activists commented on the ongoing issue of earthquake safety regulations and whether the country is ready for possible future natural disasters similar to the one that engulfed the nation in tragedy eleven years ago.

Esmail Najjar the head of NDMOI said that despite the heavy toll earthquakes have taken on the country and the evidence of Iran being located on major seismic fault lines, officials have not acted seriously to take the necessary precautions. ‘’Safety regulations have not been strictly imposed and engineers are seen violating safe construction techniques,” Najjar was quoted as saying by ISNA.  

Ahmad Sadeghi, head of the Tehran Disaster Mitigation and Management Organization (TDMMO) said the Bam earthquake had “many lessons for us as a nation, some of which were taken but some others were forgotten soon afterwards.” Immediately after the earthquake everyone was earnest in their preparedness against natural disasters, but after the dust settled nobody even cares,” said Sadeghi. “It seems that another quake should occur before the society wakes up again.’’

 Caring For Survivors  

Mohammad Farid Latifi, a deputy at NDMOI, pointed to the lack of attention to survivors of disasters and said more should be done for care of the traumatized. ‘’These people should receive consistent care but unfortunately are ignored after a while,’’ said Latifi. He also emphasized the role of prevention saying that ‘’reinforcing buildings would be the most important measure that can be taken in this regard.’’

Another NDMOI official said ‘’failure to tap into community-based organizations’’ has been the biggest forgotten lesson of the Bam earthquake. ‘’People are usually the first respondents in such incidents because they live in the place and through training we can make them part of the solution, not the problem,’’ said Morteza Akbar Pour.


Dr. Mehdi Zare, a fellow researcher at the International Center for Earthquake Studies opined that “the forgotten lessons from Bam could become a book of its own.’’ The biggest reality that everyone should accept are the active tectonic plates in Iran.’’  Constructions near active faults is the biggest mistake that can be made but still goes on unchecked,’’ Zare noted. He also called for the advancement of technology in predicting quakes saying that prior to the Bam earthquake there were warnings of the “ground shaking” that could have been used to predict the major quake.  

Eleven years have gone by since the Bam tragedy, but the “lessons not learnt are still haunting us.”  Davood Barati a safety expert lamented that lack of coordination and team work still plague the programs aimed at addressing natural disasters. Crisis management is not a political issue, therefore only qualified people should be trusted with such management, “a matter which more often than not is sacrificed for political interests,” he added.