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UN says poor construction to blame for earthquake deaths

19 May 2008

GENEVA – UN experts said too many people were dying because of poor construction in high risk zones, in a statement issued Friday following the earthquake in China.

"We know how to make buildings more resistant to earthquakes but this knowledge is still not yet well disseminated among decision- makers who enforce building codes for houses, schools and hospitals," Director of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), Salvano Briceno, said.

Hundreds of thousands of buildings, including many schools, collapsed after the 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck the south-western province of Sichuan last Monday.

Briceno stopped short of criticising China directly but the ISDR statement said it had been seen in Pakistan in October 2005, Iran in December 2003 and now in China that collapsed buildings were the main killers when earthquakes struck.

"Schools, hospitals and other crucial infrastructure need to be systematically upgraded and retrofitted in earthquake-prone areas if we want to save lives," Briceno, who is in Islamabad, Pakistan for an international conference on disaster reduction in schools, said.

"There are still too many poorly designed and constructed buildings in earthquake-prone areas and too many people dying because of it," he added.

The children’s agency UNICEF in Geneva said 12 million children lived in the quake-hit region, two million of them in the worst affected areas.

"Many families have lost their only child," spokeswoman Véronique Taveau said.

More than 2,000 children were reportedly buried under rubble at just four Sichuan schools close to the epicentre.

The UNICEF executive director Ann Veneman said in New York Thursday the agency was working closely with the Chinese authorities to provide help and support for the many children and students caught up in the disaster.

[dpa / Expatica]