27.08.2014 - Natural Sciences Sector

New guidelines to improve the safety of informal buildings

Today, more than 90% of the population living in earthquake-prone regions are living and working in informal buildings, and most losses of lives during earthquakes have occurred due to their collapse. A new UNESCO publication, entitled “Guidelines for Earthquake Resistant Non-Engineered Construction", was launched on 26 August 2014 at the Davos Risk Forum to disseminate lessons learned and basic concepts to improve the safety of these buildings.

Earthquakes pose considerable risks to people's livelihoods and to the environment. As we have witnessed over the past few years, they continue to result in severe disasters as they destroy and damage infrastructure, causing great human and economic losses. In the past decade they claimed the highest number of casualties recorded to this day.

This is why earthquake-proof buildings are so important, to reduce risks and mitigate their impacts, thus saving lives. Appropriate building codes must be followed, with guidelines based on seismology and engineering knowledge. The challenge, especially in developing countries, is that many constructions are built informally and could cause severe damage upon their collapse during an earthquake. These structures, built spontaneously and informally, are called Non-Engineered Buildings. They are often built in a traditional manner, with little or no intervention of qualified architect or engineers in their design, and are extremely vulnerable in the face of earthquakes.

The first Guidelines for Earthquake Resistant Non-Engineered Construction were published in 1986. They were translated to local languages and used extensively around the world. Since then, engineering research and practices have evolved and the guidelines were revised to reflect new research, practices and developments. 

The review process was supported by UNESCO and the members of UNESCO’s International Platform for Reducing of Earthquake Disaster (IPRED). The revised edition takes into consideration the results of recent research, adding more building types and good practices, and securing the construction of safer non-engineered buildings.

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