Most houses in rural areas cannot withstand even moderate earthquakes, so the China Seismological Bureau has pledged to help in rebuilding and retrofitting them in the coming years.
"We will launch more pilot projects throughout the countryside in the next five years, which will enable structures to resist earthquakes measuring up to 6 on the Richter scale," Du Wei, vice director of the bureau's Seismic Hazard Prevention and Mitigation Department, told China Daily in Beijing yesterday.
The bureau has yet to conduct a nationwide survey of rural homes' quake-proof status, but sampling in western China indicated at least 80 percent of the buildings do not have the least defense against possible tremors, Du said.
Speaking on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the Tangshan Earthquake in Hebei Province which leveled tens of thousands of buildings and killed at least 240,000 people, Du said that in many areas, farmers could not afford to build safer houses, like those completely of bricks.
In addition to economic factors, the situation is partly attributable to lack of guidance from the government, the official conceded.
Even when affluent rural dwellers can afford to build better homes, many go for aesthetics rather than scientific design to withstand quakes, Du said. As a result, it is not rare that an earthquake measuring 6 would devastate a huge number of houses, he said.
Sometimes, even a minor quake like the one which measured 4.2 on the Richter scale that shook Sanshui region of south China's Guangdong Province in 1997 could cause severe losses, the official said. More than 1,600 houses were destroyed then.
But homes properly designed and reinforced make a difference, Du said, citing the experience of the Datong-Yanggao region in north China's Shanxi Province, where houses were rebuilt to resist strong earthquakes after it was rocked by a temblor measuring 6.1 in 1989.
The buildings in the region survived a subsequent 5.8 earthquake two years later, according to Du.
In addition to educating farmers, seismology agencies will work with local governments to launch more pilot quake-proof housing projects and provide technical services, Du said.
Vice minister of Construction Huang Wei said his ministry supports the idea of improving houses to withstand not only earthquakes, but also other natural disasters such as landslides, floods and typhoons.
(China Daily July 27, 2006)