Thursday, Mar 23, 2017, 4:11 PM CST – China

International

Earthquake Monitoring

Seismic Shift

China aims to build over 200 overseas seismic monitoring stations, mainly in One Belt, One Road countries prone to devastating earthquakes, to minimize damage and mitigate economic losses among future business partners

Since 1900, 75 earthquakes causing at least 1,000 fatalities have shaken the regions covered by China’s One Belt, One Road initiative, an economic plan Chinese President Xi Jinping announced in late 2013. The quakes’ total death toll exceeded 1.2 million. Of these deaths, 34 percent occurred in the past 20 years alone.

To counteract the threat of future disasters, the China Earthquake Administration (CEA) began analyzing seismic activity and risk in One Belt, One Road countries within months of Xi’s announcement, mapping out an emergency rescue and disaster prevention plan based on establishing seismic network stations. By minimizing the scale of earthquake damage, China aims to lessen economic costs to countries participating in the One Belt, One Road initiative, the goal of which is to use infrastructure and trade improvements to weave together the regions connected by the land-based Silk Road Economic Belt and the oceanic 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, thereby bolstering the economies of all parties involved.

Li Li, a researcher with CEA’s Institute of Geophysics and deputy director of Beijing National Earth Observatory, has seen the effects of these natural disasters with her own eyes. She led a team of Chinese researchers who traveled to Nepal last November to investigate the feasibility of establishing a seismic monitoring network in a country still recovering from a 7.8-magnitude quake seven months prior. NewsChina recently sat down with Li to discuss the risk of earthquakes in One Belt, One Road countries and China’s role in addressing potential future calamities.

According to Li, countries in the area have an urgent need for anti-seismic protection and emergency relief, but most of them do not have the resources to conduct independent research and develop their own seismic networks.

The CEA has recently sped up the construction of monitoring stations and implementation of staff training in One Belt, One Road countries. The networks in Myanmar, Laos and Indonesia are already up and running, the Pakistan network has been completed, Kenya’s is under construction and those in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal are about to break ground.

 

NewsChina: What are the main reasons One Belt, One Road countries are at high risk for earthquakes?

Li Li: The Silk Road Economic Belt extends over the Alpide seismic belt. [The Alpide is the second-most significant seismic belt, after the Pacific-encircling Ring of Fire. It stretches from the Mediterranean to the East Indies and accounts for about 17 percent of the world’s major earthquakes.] Affected countries include Iran, Turkey and five Central Asian countries; mainly developing countries with large concentrations of people. These regions have a history of suffering at least one massive quake a year, resulting in heavy casualties and economic losses.

The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road mainly involves maritime economies. Their biggest risk is tsunamis. For example, Indonesia’s 2004 tsunami and the 1908 tsunami in Italy each killed over 200,000 people.

Nowadays, One Belt, One Road regions are witnessing rapid urbanization and population growth. Coupled with their buildings’ generally poor resistance to earthquakes, the potential damage that could be wreaked by future quakes and tsunamis is mounting, making it more likely that even moderate quakes will be able to claim huge casualties and further challenge the affected countries.

 

NC: After China unveiled the One Belt, One Road initiative, Chinese enterprises stepped up their global investment. Regarding the risk of earthquakes, to what should these enterprises pay attention?

LL: Risks exist in the planning and construction [of businesses] anywhere; no place is completely safe from the threat of natural disasters. Take China’s Yunnan and Sichuan provinces and [the western region of] Xinjiang for example – just because they experience a lot of earthquakes doesn’t mean people can’t live there or that the economy can’t flourish. In China’s eastern regions, where massive earthquakes rarely occur, minor quakes can also cause panic and economic loss. In a word, we have to face up to earthquake risk.

Quake characteristics differ throughout the Belt and Road, so the ways Chinese enterprises deal with them should differ, too. A quake safety evaluation should be conducted before companies begin constructing roadways, laying pipeline or investing in other large-scale infrastructure projects. When it comes to earthquake safety evaluation, China’s technology and management are both very well developed, so other countries can draw upon our experience in these areas.

When looking into countries along the maritime road, Chinese enterprises interested in doing business there should focus on whether or not a tsunami warning system is set up and tsunami information is available quickly.

 

NC: Is there a mandatory earthquake safety standard for enterprises?

LL: Yes, there is a safety evaluation system… For major construction projects, a comprehensive safety evaluation is required, including the assessment of the area’s quake history and the possibility of future quakes, as well as their potential severity.

Local conditions have to be taken into account. Anti-seismic standards differ in various areas and for different construction projects. Making a building earthquake-proof may increase construction costs by 5 to 8 percent.

Enterprises should perform quake safety evaluations before investing in major projects and, if possible, maintain close contact with local seismic monitoring organizations. In some countries, quake information is released in a timely fashion, but for those countries where information is not updated frequently, businesses can contact Chinese earthquake monitoring institutions, like the China Earthquake Networks Center, which have a grasp on basic quake activity worldwide.

 

NC: CEA’s construction of seismic networks overseas began more than 20 years ago. What is the effect of this work on the One Belt, One Road countries?

LL: More than 20 years ago, the CEA began to extend its overseas seismic station construction for several purposes: to make up for the low density of seismic stations in China’s neighboring countries and enhance their capability to locate earthquakes; to boost technological cooperation amongst ASEAN countries; to serve national defense, diplomacy and geoscientific research; and to provide quick and accurate seismic information to policymakers.

Over the years, the CEA has set up 40 total seismic stations in Algeria, Myanmar, Laos, Indonesia, Pakistan and Samoa through support and construction aid. The stations were built to observe earthquakes both for China and the host countries. In recent years, we’ve mainly concentrated on countries who are prone to massive quakes and who need China’s assistance. Previously, priority was given to countries bordering China with a need for tsunami warning systems.

Since 2012, the CEA has cooperated with Kenya, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh on earthquake observation and research. CEA experts finished a field survey at the end of 2015 that explored the establishment of a seismic network and staff training courses in Kenya, marking the first time Chinese earthquake experts will lead classes on seismic monitoring at overseas universities.

From an earth sciences angle – many of China’s disastrous quakes are transnational. Promoting China’s earthquake protection technology abroad, localizing it and improving international communication will in turn boost China’s engineering and industrialization of anti-seismic technology.

 

NC: In terms of the construction of seismic networks, how does China compare to other countries?

LL: At present, China has over 1,000 seismic stations within its borders and the China Earthquake Networks Center is the largest in scale globally. The US has also set up more than 150 seismic stations abroad to observe earthquakes long-term. Currently, China’s overseas seismic stations are not capable of monitoring global quakes [at or below] a medium scale.

China is a quake-prone country, so we’ve had to be both comprehensive and detailed in our seismic monitoring and disaster reduction. While China is not the world’s [earthquake protection] technology leader, our technology is advanced, and we’re capable of assisting foreign countries in terms of seismic equipment, technology, software and timely reporting.

Previously, when a quake broke out, it was hard to locate its epicenter within half an hour. But now, China can pinpoint the epicenter of a 4- or 5-magnitude quake within a few minutes or even seconds, and our technology is improving constantly.

 

NC: What is China’s goal in building overseas seismic stations?

LL: On the one hand, China needs an even distribution of seismic stations worldwide. If two stations are too close, that is not very useful. Stations should be built evenly along seismic belts to obtain quake information from around the world more quickly. Generally speaking, it would be ideal for China to build 200 or more seismic stations worldwide. On the other hand, quakes that occur in bordering countries can also cause severe damage in China, particularly the massive quakes, so constructing seismic stations in these areas is of great importance to minimizing earthquakes’ disastrous effects for all those at risk.

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