Catastrophe Waiting to Happen?: Architects, seismologists call dense construction a risk in quake-prone Armenia

Catastrophe Waiting to Happen?: Architects, seismologists call dense construction a risk in quake-prone Armenia

NAZIK ARMENAKYAN
ArmeniaNow

Seismologists say if Yerevan experiences an earthquake measuring 7, the number of victims will reach 300,000

Architects in Armenia are worried that mushrooming buildings and dense construction in capital Yerevan may spell danger for the city should an earthquake similar to the one 22 years ago strike again.


Seismologists estimate that if Yerevan experiences an earthquake measuring 7, the number of victims will reach 300,000 because of dense residence and faulty residential and office construction.

An earthquake of about the same magnitude killed 25,000 and crippled many more in northern Armenian provinces on December 7, 1988. Spitak, Gyumri and several nearby villages were razed to the ground after the powerful tremors, with an estimated 1.5 million people losing shelter. The consequences of that powerful quake can still be felt today across the Shirak and Lori regions of Armenia where many people still live in makeshift housing.

Architects’ Union Head Mkrtich Minasyan says Armenia, a country situated in one of the globe’s seismically active areas, should have learned the lessons of that devastating earthquake.

“Yerevan is overloaded. No lessons have been learned from the Spitak earthquake. If another quake strikes, this density of buildings will result in destruction of the same scale,” said Minasyan. “It is possible that the buildings would remain standing due to their strength, but their density in violation of construction norms would not allow for rescue work.”

The poor quality of construction was widely blamed for the vast destruction that occurred in Gyumri and Spitak in the 1988 earthquake. After that disaster, new international research was conducted to conclude that Armenia is in a zone that may experience earthquakes measuring 9 and higher on the Richter magnitude scale (and not maximum 7 as it was thought during the Soviet times, with construction norms fitting the 7-point earthquake-resistance construction standards).

Alvaro Antonyan, who heads the National Seismic Protection Service (NSPS) in Armenia, says that newly constructed buildings are much more stable and have a higher quality. But the density of these constructions, he says, is alarming.

“Developers have either forgotten the 1988 earthquake, or have been blinded by construction business revenues. The city has an inadmissible density of construction,” Antonyan told ArmeniaNow.

Yerevan is said to be particularly in trouble as about 40 percent of its Soviet-era residential construction is viewed as having an unsatisfactory condition in terms of seismic stability.

“During the Soviet times construction was of poor quality. Today’s new buildings are of good quality, but are outside control, we have no leverage to check their seismic safety,” says head of the NSPS department for buildings and construction seismic resistance Gurgen Amalyan.

Architects also complain that they have no control of the situation either in ensuring the safety standards of construction or the city’s architectural appearance.

“When we raise the issue of building density, administrative bodies start talking to us as if we were their enemy. This means that our voice is not heard,” says Architects’ Union Head Minasyan.