Djapar Karaev, Leading Specialist of the project “Strengthening the National Potential of Turkmenistan for Seismic Risk Assessment, Prevention and Response to Potential Earthquakes”

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UNDP: Djapar Ishankulievich, in recent years there has been an increased interest in the problem of assessing and reducing seismic risk, including in Turkmenistan. It is interesting to know what caused this increase in attention to this problem?

DIK: Very succinctly and at the same time very convincingly, the answer to your question is given by the following statement of the outstanding scientist, Soviet academician Nikita Nikolayevich Moiseev: “There were, are and will be risks and dangers in the development of civilization. And we will have to accustom ourselves to the thought of the need to live under this burden. But this means only one thing: humanity needs to learn how to minimize this risk and danger.”

By the severity of consequences, earthquakes occupy one of the leading places among natural disasters. It should be borne in mind that every strong earthquake is accompanied by numerous secondary consequences, the damage from which can be very significant.

Most of these devastating earthquakes occur within continents, where there are thousands of active seismic faults that can cause earthquakes at any given time. This is especially true for Turkmenistan, which is one of the most earthquake-prone countries not only in the Central Asian region, but also in the world.

Studies show that the Balkhan-Caspian region and the Kopetdag mountain system separating Turkmenistan and Iran are highly seismic, as evidenced, in particular, by devastating earthquakes: Uzun-Adinsk (Krasnovodsk) 1895, Germab 1929, Kazandzhik 1946, Ashkhabad 1948, Balkhan 2000. The map below of the isoseismal lines (i.e., lines of equal intensity) of the strongest earthquakes in Turkmenistan and adjacent territories clearly illustrates what was said.

The Ashgabat earthquake of 1948, which led to the death of about 80% of the local population (more than 100,000 people), was a terrible tragedy in the history of the Turkmen people.

Due to its geographical location, large cities of Turkmenistan and, in particular, the capital of the country, Ashgabat, are located in a seismically dangerous zone. Due to the territorial organization and rapid economic growth, the negative impact, in the event of a disaster, can spread throughout the country and even beyond its borders. The risk of a devastating earthquake has a potentially huge negative impact on the dynamics of a country's development: the entire level of a country's development can be thrown back by one seismic event.

UNDP: What is the UNDP project about, what is its purpose and objectives, implementation mechanism?

DIK: To ensure the full realization of the development goals of Turkmenistan, the Government of Turkmenistan has begun developing a focused agenda that will allow the country to become more stable in the face of potential man-made and natural emergencies. To this end, the Government of Turkmenistan and UNDP reached an agreement on the strategic integration of efforts in building capacity in disaster risk management in the country. As part of this strategic directive, a Project Document was signed (February 27, 2018, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan), in accordance with which the Institute of Seismology and Atmospheric Physics of the Academy of Sciences of Turkmenistan, together with UNDP, launched the project “Strengthening National Potential for Seismic Risk Assessment, Prevention and response to potential earthquakes.”

The project is in line with the principles of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and will contribute to the implementation of all its priorities in Turkmenistan.

The project, which is a joint initiative of the Government of Turkmenistan and UNDP, is being implemented as part of the national implementation mechanism. Recognizing the importance of reducing disaster risks, including preparing for emergencies and supporting joint efforts in this area, the Government of Turkmenistan decided to allocate appropriate financial resources for the joint implementation with UNDP of the tasks and activities under this project.

The project aims to develop and implement an integrated strategic approach to assess the seismic hazard and risks in Turkmenistan and will assist the Government in strengthening the capacity of institutions engaged into the preparation and response to emergency situations in general.

Pilot activities will be conducted in Ashgabat for the subsequent application of successful practices and approaches at the territory of other cities and settlements subject to seismic risks in Turkmenistan.

The project will be implemented in collaboration with scientists and experts from leading scientific centers for the assessment and reduction of seismic risks, including Institute of Earth Physics of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), Institute of Geoecology RAS, Central Asian Institute for Applied Earth Research, German Center for Earth Research.

UNDP: As the name of the project implies, one of its main goals is to assess seismic risks. If possible, could you explain, what is a seismic risk?

DIK: The main concepts related to the socio-economic consequences of earthquakes are as follows:

Seismic hazard is the likelihood of seismic effects of a certain force on a given area during a given time interval. It describes the danger that threatens us, the building, the city, in other words, the external impact on the object. Seismic effects are expressed in points of the seismic intensity scale or in the amplitudes of the ground vibrations.

Seismic zoning is a mapping of seismic hazard.

Seismic vulnerability is determined by the ratio of the state and properties of risk objects after the impact of an earthquake to their initial state. Vulnerability is determined by the internal characteristics of the target itself and answers questions about how the target itself actually responds to the impact, being damaged as a result of this impact. City, people, buildings, environment, i.e. all that can inflict any damage can be considered as an object of vulnerability to seismic impact.

An integral (i.e., total) characteristic of social, economic and environmental losses that are possible in an earthquake is seismic risk.

Seismic risk - the likelihood of social, economic and environmental damage associated with earthquakes in a given territory during a certain time interval in accordance with seismic hazard and the vulnerability of objects. It is defined as a superposition of seismic hazard and vulnerability of various risk elements (people, civil and industrial engineering structures, life support facilities, other components of infrastructure, etc.).

Thus, the main components of seismic risk are the seismic hazard of the territory and the vulnerability of its elements, i.e. buildings, structures, people and other values.

A seismic risk assessment is an assessment of the social, economic and environmental damage associated with earthquakes in the area in question over a specified time interval.

To assess the seismic risk emergency situation should be viewed as a complex event, which occurs in the case of two events: the earthquake in the territory in question and the destruction of infrastructure, changes in the geological environment, injuries and deaths.

In other words, to assess seismic risk, you need to know what intensity an earthquake can be in a given place and what is the degree of negative impact of this earthquake on objects located in this place (buildings, structures, people, the environment).

UNDP: At what stage is the project, what has been done?

DIK: Actually, the project began in August 2018. The implementation of the project requires a large amount of preparatory work. Work on seismic zoning is based on a complex of geological-geophysical, hydrogeological, engineering-geological, seismological data. In this regard, the first step was an information search, collection, systematization of existing data necessary for the implementation of the project. The analysis of existing maps of seismic zoning (general, detailed, microzoning) of the study area is being completed. Work has begun on the preparation of a unified topographic and geodetic basis for the city of Ashgabat and its immediate surroundings (as objects for conducting work to reduce risks). An agreement on the certification of buildings and structures of the city of Ashgabat with the compilation of a single passport in machine-readable form is under preparation. It should be said that this huge work is extremely necessary for assessing the seismic vulnerability of the territory of Ashgabat.

Two trainings on the development of geographic information systems (GIS) and their application for mapping and analysis of predicted events and phenomena were also organized and conducted.

In the end of 2018, an introductory seminar was held on the project with the participation of leading scientists and specialists of research institutes and higher educational institutions of Turkmenistan, representatives of the Main Department of Civil Defense and Rescue Work of the Ministry of Defense of Turkmenistan, other ministries and departments. Scientists from the Institute of Geoecology of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Central Asian Institute of Applied Earth Research made very interesting reports and constructive proposals at the seminar.

Now, after enough time has passed, we can confidently say that the seminar was very fruitful, because it allowed us to create, figuratively speaking, a clip of potential highly professional executors of project activities, including foreign specialists.

UNDP: From what you said it becomes clear that a lot of work needs to be done to implement the project. What is the significance of this work and what needs to be done to reduce seismic risk?

DIK: The high relevance and necessity of this work is very obvious from the answer to your first question. Speaking about the state significance of the project, I would like to note that at the meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan on January 18, 2019, President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov noting the importance of developing a “Program for the reduction of seismic risk in zones of increased seismic hazard of Turkmenistan” stressed that the implementation of program measures in this sphere corresponds to the country's priorities in the field of sustainable development. It is easy to notice that our project is in perfect harmony with this program.

You correctly noted, that one of the main objectives of the project is to assess seismic risk. As a result of the work carried out, a map of seismic risk of the territory of the city of Ashgabat will be compiled, which will be the basis for a focused and reasonable development of a set of measures to reduce seismic risk.

It has already been noted above that seismic risk occurs with the simultaneous presence of seismic hazard and seismic vulnerability. Seismic hazard is caused by a natural process, such as an earthquake. Therefore, it is impossible to reduce the seismic hazard, since we are not able to reduce the strength of the earthquake. One thing remains - to take the necessary measures to reduce the seismic vulnerability of risk objects, i.e. buildings, structures, people and other values.

The Greek engineer-seismologist, professor emeritus of earthquake-resistant construction at Imperial College London Nicholas Ambraseys has the following words: "It’s not earthquakes that kill people, but buildings." Very accurate and strong. In this regard, the first way to reduce seismic vulnerability, and therefore reduce seismic risk, is to increase the seismic resistance of buildings and structures. And for this, knowledge of the level of seismic hazard of the territory, development of maps of seismic zoning is extremely necessary.

Another cardinal way to reduce seismic risk is to increase preparedness for earthquakes and to eliminate their consequences, which includes, first of all, the readiness of the population, the readiness of power structures, and the readiness of specialized structures. It is clear that in order to increase preparedness, it is necessary to raise public awareness of the earthquake, the nature and characteristics of the impact of this formidable natural disaster.

UNDP: What will be your message for each citizen and guest of Turkmenistan regarding the prevention of seismic risks?

DIK: Earthquakes occur unexpectedly and constantly, and this fact underlines the need for continuous measures aimed at reducing seismic risk in parallel with the processes of socio-economic development. The task of seismologists, specialists in earthquake-resistant construction and emergency protection services is to study the seismic hazard of the territory, assess the risks and propose a list of priority measures to reduce seismic risk and increase preparedness for the elimination of earthquake effects. It is necessary to remember the wise words of the Japanese professor of the Institute of Earthquake Research (Tokyo) Torahiko Terada “The subsequent natural disaster always occurs when the bitter lesson of the previous one is already forgotten.”

Everyone needs to remember that we live in an earthquake-prone region. The basic rule is to prepare for it in advance. Seismic literacy is the key to earthquake safety. In this regard, I will cite an important and necessary point for knowledge expressed by the famous seismologist Valentin Ivanovich Ulomov “Residents of earthquake-prone areas, at least, should know that the destruction of a building or other structure during an earthquake usually does not occur immediately, but within tens of seconds, necessary for the accumulation of damage, which lead to the subsequent destruction of the object. It is important to know that even the most intense concussions do not occur immediately, but only with the arrival of transverse waves, which propagate almost twice as slowly as longitudinal waves, from which all earthquakes begin. Catastrophic collapse of structures begins after exposure to surface waves that arrive later transverse. These tens of seconds must be used to escape from death!” I am sure few of us know about this.

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