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2 July 2007

Alert today, Alive tommorrow

At a visit to a mall last week, I was a bit taken aback by the water leakage from the roof in the middle of the home department section. इt was not alarming but it is not something I'd expect in one of the swankiest mall either। Last year during rains, yet another mall in a completely different location had to evacuate the people due to power cut that would have stopped the elevators and escalators and obviously the in-site multiplex movie screening.

In the rush of new construction , the need for very very user friendly designs and technologies, self sufficient maintainance programmes, disaster management and recovery plans in high rise apartments, malls and other private and public buildings, need for strict codes of construction and safety become very important. Do we as a nation have enough qualified people to meet this demand and sufficient policy and legal frameworks in place?

Or,we may end up paying a very high price for human ignorance,negligence and greed, as the lesson of the Sampoong department Store collapse in 1995 in Seoul, South Korea demonstrates to us.

The National Geographic Channel ran a superb programme on re-constructing the events of the crash and an interview with the strucutural engineer who led the investigation which provides fascinating insights into the event and the run-up and fall out too that has een aired many times now.

General reaction and nationwide building review that followed the disaster led to skepticism and fears regarding safety standards on other engineering projects undertaken as South Korea experienced an economic boom during the 1980s and 1990s, and resulted in a review of South Korean safety regulations; the incident also revealed the level of corruption among city officials, who were willing to accept payoffs with little regard to public safety.

After the collapse, the South Korean government conducted a check on all buildings in the country, with shocking results. Wiki reports that the study revealed that:

-One seventh of the country's high-rise buildings required rebuilding
-80% of the country's buildings required major repair work
-Only one in fifty of the country's buildings were deemed safe
-98% of the country's buildings were affected

It is more than a decade ago, but the lessons are very relevant to India as it is on the brink of rapid development and boom in the construction sector.

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