AMMAN – The vast majority of new buildings constructed in the Kingdom, excluding the capital, do not comply with the National Building Code (NBC), according to the Jordan Engineers Association (JEA).
Stressing that failure to follow regulations puts the safety of buildings at risk in the event of major earthquakes, Mahmoud Subhi, head of the JEA’s technical affairs and engineering supervision committee, told The Jordan Times in a recent interview that citizens are obligated to comply with the NBC.

“Unfortunately that is not the case in the various governorates,” he said.

“Due to poor enforcement of the regulations by authorities and the widespread influence of wasta (favouritism), licences are issued after the construction is complete, which is a clear violation of the rules,” Subhi added.

Citing the major earthquake that struck Chile last week, Subhi said adherence to national building codes in the South American country were the main reason behind the relatively low damage that resulted from the tremor.

The death toll from the strongest earthquake to hit Chile in more than 50 years officially stands at 723 people, and about 80 per cent of the South American country’s population was affected by the 8.8-magnitude tremor, which occurred just off the coast of Chile in the early hours of February 27, according to the Pan American Health Organisation, quoted by the UN News Service.

“If such a strong quake hit the Kingdom, God forbid, I doubt the buildings could stand the shock,” he said, noting that structures that follow the standards stipulated by the NBC can withstand seismic activity of magnitudes up to 7.0.

Non-compliance to the building codes is not exclusive to regular citizens, Subhi said, stressing that several mega- projects currently under construction are not abiding by the regulations, citing the collapse of three storeys of the Jordan Gate project’s north tower in 2006.

“All municipalities including the Greater Amman Municipality must not issue a construction licence without the JEA’s approval of the blueprint. In the case of the Jordan Gate, they sent us the blueprints only after the collapse incident,” said Subhi.

Moreover, the JEA official maintained that several buildings being constructed under the Decent Housing for Decent Living initiative are also not abiding by the NBC.

Darwish Jasser, head of the Jordan Seismological Observatory (JSO) at the Natural Resources Authority, told The Jordan Times that frequent small tremors are part of a long history of seismic activity in the region, but said the chances of a major earthquake hitting the region are very slim.

“No experts have expressed worry in terms of devastating tremors in the near future in the region,” he noted.

The Jordan Rift Valley, a source of seismic activity in the region, is part of a long fissure in the Earth’s surface called the Great Rift Valley that extends from the Taurus Mountains of Turkey to the Zambezi Valley in southern Africa.

According to Jasser, the strongest seismic activity registered in the Kingdom since the JSO was established in 1983 was a 6.0-magnitude earthquake near Aqaba in 1995, in addition to a 5.3 magnitude tremor that took place in 2008 and was felt across the northern and eastern regions of the country.

“Minor earthquakes are considered a normal release of energy and happen every 10 to 15 years on this part of Earth,” Jasser said, adding that the JSO’s seismic monitoring instruments register two-three minor tremors every month that the public cannot feel.

In a previous statement to The Jordan Times, David D. Oglesby, associate professor of geophysics at the University of California, said the many earthquakes experienced in the Jordan Valley are most likely not related to any large earthquake in the future.

“The probability of a large earthquake is probably the same that it always has been,” he added.

By Hani Hazaimeh

© Jordan Times 2010

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