Here in Bangladesh you have been very lucky. It has been two hundred years since your last major earthquake. But for how long will your luck last? With its proximity to an active fault, very weak soils, dense population, and poor controls on construction, the next earthquake will be a terrible disaster.
I repeated these lines over and over while working our booth at a safety conference for factory owners in Bangladesh. Dhaka is a scary place for earthquakes. Very little of the construction is designed to resist even a small earthquake. The government’s own reports highlight the risk—with a 6.0 earthquake (10 times weaker than the 2010 Haiti earthquake), 70% of the buildings will be badly damaged including the hospitals and other emergency facilities. Roads and rail lines would be damaged. The airport would be closed. Hundreds of thousands of people could die.
This was my first visit to Dhaka. I spent five days talking with people at the expo, visiting factories, and driving around the city. I came away with very mixed feelings and a deep fascination for the country.
Having spent so much of my time in Haiti, I naturally found myself comparing Dhaka and Port-au-Prince. Both are poor cities with weak infrastructure and both are struggling to grow and modernize. Dhaka is a dramatically bigger city with bigger assets and much bigger problems. Traffic has been Dhaka’s bane for many years. From early in the morning until late at night, traffic crawls through the city. It can take three hours to get from one part of the city to another. Pollution is another bad problem—a heavy haze that hangs over the city.
At the same time, the city is growing well. A handful of overpasses are being built. There are beautiful new buildings. I felt a strong sense of optimism and hope—that Bangladesh was moving forward. The quality of the buildings is also improving. Many of the new buildings appeared to be well built. Perhaps if Bangladesh can remain lucky for another 50 years, then perhaps be ready for the next earthquake.