20 September 2008

Is Singapore immune from tsunamis and earthquakes?

Recent articles suggest Singapore is not immune. And what are the perils of ignoring Mother Nature?

Tsunamis not impossible

extracts from Singapore not completely immune from tsunamis: expert AFP Yahoo News 19 Sep 08
Singapore can be hit by a tsunami generated from three locations and the waves could damage key coastal infrastructure without being too high, said Professor Wong Poh Poh of the National University of Singapore geography department.

"We don't need 10 metres. The problem with Singapore is... we have a lot of infrastructure on the coast. All you need is a very low wave to just come in and hit certain areas," he said.

"Changi Airport will be very vulnerable," he said, adding the man-made island of Jurong which houses a sprawling petrochemical complex is also at risk, and urged the government to commission a study on tsunamis.
Earthquakes likely

from Think Singapore is safe from quakes? Distance may not guarantee safety, going by past cases, Christopher Tan, Straits Times 12 Sep 08
Dr Spranger pointed out that cities sited away from tremor-prone zones are not necessarily immune to the devastating effects of earthquakes. He cited the case of Mexico City. 'In 1985, a quake occurred off the Mexican coast. About 300km away in Mexico City, buildings collapsed, and there were 10,000 fatalities. 'Between the coast and Mexico City, you didn't feel the earthquake.'

In Singapore's case, the Republic is vulnerable to certain shockwaves that can travel long distances, he said. 'Only the long waves arrive and they affect mostly high-rise buildings and especially those built on reclaimed land. In that respect, the risk has changed because Singapore has a lot more high-rise buildings on reclaimed land now.'

He said that these 'long waves' or low-frequency waves could 'amplify when they reach soft ground'. Mexico City, he pointed out, is also partly built on reclaimed land.

Researchers at the Nanyang Techological University (NTU) in a 1990s study concluded that the risk here was higher than expected; and that the building codes did not reflect this risk.

Is a big earthquake expected soon?
Professor Kerry Sieh, founding director of NTU's six-month-old Earth Observatory, said Sumatra will be hit by 'the next big one...in the next 30 days or 30 years'.

'We have a geological record that goes back 1,000 years. It shows the region being hit by major quakes every 200-300 years,' he said. 'The last cluster of powerful quakes happened about 200 years ago. We're entering a new cluster.'

He noted that the major quakes which hit Sumatra last September and the subsequent tremors are part of a process leading to the 'next big one', which he said could be a quake as powerful as 8.8 on the Richter scale.

Anything being done about this?
The Nanyang Technological University is involved in the two studies being undertaken here to find out if the effects felt in the Republic are likely to be more severe in future.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore is planning to part-fund one study on the possible impact that natural catastrophes would have on Singapore's financial sector, with earthquakes high on the agenda.

The second study, commissioned by the Building & Construction Authority (BCA), is part of its 'review of building codes and regulations after several major earthquakes in the region', said its spokesman Jeanna Das.

Financial impact of not being prepared?
Higher insurance rates are possible. Dr Spranger is an earthquake risk researcher at Munich Re, one of the world's largest reinsurers who is calling on its clients, to reassess their exposure to quake claims in Singapore.
What is the price of ignoring Mother Nature?

from Mother Nature Still in Charge Robin Lloyd, LiveScience Yahoo News 8 May 08

The Myanmar cyclone. The earthquake off the coast of Japan. The Chilean volcano. Has Earth gone bonkers? Not at all. This level of natural activity is normal for Earth, scientists say.

"Mother Nature is just reminding us that she is in charge."

It might look and feel like the recent disasters worldwide are a cluster of events that could be related, but scientists say they aren't.

"It's totally random."

The number of reported natural disasters globally has been on a fast rise since the 1960s. EM-DAT disasters are up from about 120 in 1980 to more than 400 in 2007. But the increase has nothing to do with the planet.

Rather, the rise is the result better monitoring and reporting of natural disasters.

And the actual number of people killed worldwide by natural disasters has been relatively small (under 500,000 per year) since the 1960s compared previous decades in the 20th century when death tolls sometimes exceeded 2 million or even 3 million, according to EM-DAT.

That drop is the due to better building codes and preparation.

Many homes and businesses are now built in coastal and earthquake-prone regions. This shows a "disdain for the power of nature. She's still in charge."

For this reason, if the Indonesian tsunami of 2004 had happened half a century ago, it would've killed some 30,000 people, rather than nearly 300,000.

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