In Pakistan, a legislative oversight of seismic proportions

Despite the loss they have inflicted time and again, no law exists to ensure buildings can stand up to earthquakes

Rizwan Asif September 30, 2019
A crack runs through a mountain road. PHOTO: REUTERS

LAHORE: The aftermath of the recent earthquake in different parts of Punjab on September 24 not only killed at least 38 people and injured 646 others, but it also caused considerable infrastructure damage. Since many areas of Pakistan lie in the dangerous seismic zone, there is a constant danger of high-and-low intensity earthquakes that can potentially cause damage.

Owing to a lack of interest and non-seriousness of the past and present government, however, the country has no effective laws to ensure the construction of earthquake-resistant buildings and structures. In the building by-laws of the provinces – which includes the Pakistan Building Code – there are certain clauses to protect buildings but considering geological changes, there is a need to include new rules related to structural engineering and earthquake-resistant buildings.

According to geological and geographical experts, there is an urgent need to bring about a change in the Pakistani construction engineering and designing methods. Since the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government has come up with a policy to construct high-rise buildings, therefore, the government and constructors must consider the risks of earthquakes and change building design and materials accordingly.


Speaking to The Express Tribune, famous architect Khalid Abdur Rehman affirmed Pakistan's vulnerability to seismic shocks and said that despite the existence of rules and regulations pertaining to natural calamities, they are not given a priority during the construction of buildings and structures.

“At the direction of the Punjab government, however, the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) – together with the cooperation of experts – has made new by-laws in which modern construction clauses have been included,” he said.

Rehman suggested that the government should use the International Building Code instead of the Pakistan Building Code because the majority of the buildings cannot sustain the damages when earthquakes strike.

“Some basic changes are needed in the building code, especially when it comes to the construction of high-rise buildings. In the event of earthquakes, the glass would break due to inflexibility. Also, there are no rules for glasses as to what kind of fit should be applied,” he said.

With the exception of the Cholistan Desert in the South, no other area in Pakistan is considered safe from earthquakes. Pakistan is divided into five seismic zones, with Gwadar being the most vulnerable area as it is situated on a fault line. Moreover, at a distance of 60 miles from Karachi, three fault lines coincide which makes the area quite susceptible to tremors and quakes.

According to seismic experts, the Karakoram plate is gradually shifting above the Indian plate due to which the entire area is under pressure. The Kashmir fault line crosses over the Main Boundary Thrust (MBT) and this intersection of fault is the most vulnerable to earthquakes.

The Federal Geological Survey of Pakistan, the federal and provincial departments of construction and communications, the Met department, and development authorities are jointly and individually responsible for creating the building codes for Pakistan.

The building by-laws of the federal and provincial departments are made under the Building Code of Pakistan 2007, however, there is nothing pertinent in these laws to protect buildings and structures from earthquakes.

Building experts say owing to the rapidly-changing geological and geographical situation, all buildings – whether they are commercial, domestic, high-rise or low-rise – should be able to sustain seismic shocks. A clause should be included in the building code pertaining to the use of construction materials in accordance with the fault lines of the seismic zones.


Concerning the construction of high-rise buildings in Lahore per the instruction of the government, the Vice Chairman LDA Syed Muhammad Imran said that that they LDA has included famous experts in the preparation of zoning and building by-laws and vows to include modern technology in construction.

“In the past, there was not even a building safety clause present in the by-laws but it is now included in the building code,” he said. “In order to protect buildings from collapsing during earthquakes, structural engineering changes will be implemented during construction and we will ask the federal and provincial departments for their cooperation.”


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