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“As visitor … who saw the area … and as longtime preservationist and architectural historian with the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office, I really want to help rally help for all those trying to rebuild in Gujarat. I sent a donation to CARE for immediate aid, but it seems to me that US ICOMOS is THE key organization that can help if any can. … I think we can put the word out the Vernacular Architecture Forum and SAH, but the real opportunity is probably ICOMOS, because of its stature, connections, experiences, and purpose.”


Catherine Bishir,

North Carolina



 Tue, 6 Feb 2001:  “Oh, Bhuj is a mess, a crying mess.  All those beautiful buildings gone.   BUT we could help local people rebuild them -- and silence armchair preservationists who theorize so well about the intellectual limitations of rebuilding the new in the image of the old, (something which, at least, the PEOPLE of Morbi and Bhuj want, so why not help them do it en force, n'est ce pas?


Please pass on to preservationists, historians, PRACTITIONERS, people who might want to get in touch with me about working on a symposium in the coming months on building technologies (traditional and modern) around the world, right here in Gujarat.  [We] MUST mobilize support to work on technicians and public historians in the US to help specialists here in India advocate a practical course of action to set minimum disaster-resistent design standards, synthesize methodologies for community-based responses, recognize and interpret the value of "tradition" (in all its contentious complexity) and its associated technologies in a very practical sense, and explore quickly how these technologies dove-tail with modern responses.”


Azhar Tyabji,

Urban planner, Ahmedabad



February 12, 2001:  Forty years of cement and concrete technology has resulted in the decrease in traditional technical knowledge systems.  A colossal problem.  …One of the first tasks is to rediscover the common understanding that existed that existed from inventories of buildings.”


Nalini Thakur, Professor of Architecture, New Delhi



HINDUSTAN TIMES, Wednesday, January 31, 2001, New Delhi: AMONG THE historical mansions in Jaisalmer on the verge of collapse is the Salim Singh ki haveli. The rear portion of the 300-year-old haveli, whose most interesting part is its narrow base upon which the upper portions have been built much wider, collapsed due to the tremors on January 26. Still, the tourists, mostly foreigners, continue to be attracted to it.


The administration can only watch helplessly.


Some portions of the haveli, like the Patwon ki haveli, whose main feature is rock carvings and stone inlays, and Dewan Nathmalji ki haveli, which has been carved out of raw stone boulders, are among the historical buildings being taken care of by the Department of Archaeology, Government of Rajasthan.


The department ensures the protection of such monuments in its efforts to preserve and protect the cultural heritage of Jaisalmer.


"Immediately after the earthquake, I informed my higher-ups about the cracks that had developed in many of the historical mansions," Chaturbuj Gehlot, Curator, Government Museum, said.

He added that he was dashing off another letter to the authorities informing them about the possible "collapse of Salim Singh ki haveli".


Prabhu Razdan (Jaisalmer, January 30)





NEW DELHI, Jan 29 (AFP) - As India focused on the horrific human and economic cost of the earthquake that devastated the western state of Gujarat, concerns grew over the damage to the country's cultural heritage.


Gujarat, which bore the brunt of the quake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale, is liberally dotted with historical monuments dating back centuries.  

These include the famous temple of Somnath dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, the Sabarmati "ashram" or hermitage of Mahatama Gandhi and a site dating back to the Indus valley civilisation, between 3000 and 4000 BC.


"These are just a few of the famous monuments ... there are several lesser known ones. We know there has been damage to quite of few of them," said Harshad Kumari, convenor of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, in Gujarat…


The Press Trust of India said a 113-year old museum in Bhuj was completely leveled, destroying an important collection of artifacts, including a 7th century statue of Lord Buddha.  "I hear Bhuj was devastated and I think we have lost a hell of a lot of cultural monuments there ... it is very, very sad," Kumari said.


"The problem is that in a calamity of this scale and magnitude, attention is naturally on search and rescue operations," a senior bureaucrat in India's culture ministry said.  "How can we talk about pulling out our staff to assess the damage to historical monuments in the face of such human agony?"  As many as 20,000 people were feared to have died in Gujarat, making the quake one of India's worst-ever natural disasters.




NEW DELHI, Jan 29 (Reuters) - An earthquake that killed as many as 20,000 people in western India has flattened many of the area's historic monuments, temples and mediaeval forts, conservation experts said on Monday.


Gujarat, including the former princely state of Kutch, is dotted with monuments, some of them more than 500 years old.  Aerial photographs of prosperous Gujarat state near the quake's epicentre show vast tracts of land where nearly all buildings, old and new, have been reduced to rubble.


"Kutch is now history," said Harshad Kumari, convener of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH). She has been struggling to contact colleagues in Bhuj which took the brunt of the worst earthquake in the country's modern history.


A 113-year-old museum in the devastated town of Bhuj has been reduced to rubble, and cracks have developed in scores of historical buildings across the states of Gujarat and Rajasthan.  The Bhuj museum had a collection of artefacts including a seventh-century statue of Lord Buddha.


"The museum has disappeared, and with that artefacts which are hundreds of years old," said Bindu Manchanda, another expert at INTACH.  "They (authorities) probably have not even realised there is a lot of cultural heritage out there, it is also very sad."


Cracks have also developed in a 500-year-old fort in Pokhran...  A haveli, or old building, in the desert town of Jaisalmer also crumbled and cracks have shown up in the Jaisalmer fort which was built and rebuilt between the 12th and 15th century.


Sanjeev Miglani, New Delhi Newsroom



AHMEDABAD;  January 29, 2001: 571-yr-old Jhulta Minara collapses in quake: Along with thousands of lives, an architectural marvel and heritage structure was lost in the earthquake on Friday, in Ahmedabad.



NEW DELHI, Jan 31 (AFP) - QUAKE ROCKS INDIA'S CULTURAL HERITAGE:  A wall dating back to 3,000 BC was among a dozen major historical monuments leveled or seriously damaged by India's worst quake for 50 years, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) officials said Wednesday.


"We have received reports that two of the dozen or so badly affected historical structures were flattened by the quake," the senior ASI official told AFP.  One of these was a structure raised over the funeral ground of some of the most powerful 16th and 17th century rulers of Gujarat's Bhuj region, which was close to the epicentre of the quake.


"The structure, called 'Chhatri' in Bhuj had several beautiful decorative statuettes.  According to the reports we have, the entire structure was flattened."  The state is liberally dotted with historical monuments of global importance, including the temple of Somnath dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, the Sabarmati "ashram" or hermitage of Mahatama Gandhi and a site dating back to the Indus valley civilisation, between 3000 and 4000 BC.


Another monument razed by the quake was the Sheikh Farid Durgah (shrine), situated in Patan district, in north Gujarat.

There were reports of damage to historical monuments coming in from neighbouring Rajasthan state as well.


The rear portion of a 300-year-old royal mansion, famous for its stone carvings and chiselled work in the desert town of Jaisalmer, 570 kilometres (350 miles) from Rajasthan's provincial capital Jaipur, was on the verge of collapse, the Hindustan Times said.  The mansion, like several others, borders the famous Jaisalmer Fort, which draws hundreds of foreign and Indian tourists every year.


An official in charge of monuments at the ASI, said "Reassembling the damaged structures in a stage of partial collapse is an extremely tedious task. I cannot say anything about the wholly collapsed structures ... the entire process will take at least a year. As for the cost, I can only say it will run into tens of millions of rupees (millions of dollars).”



NEW DELHI, Jan. 30; NEW YORK TIMES — TOO TRUE, BUILDINGS KILL: WILL INDIA PAY HEED NOW?  Many a disaster comes with its own Cassandra, someone whose warnings went unheeded, leaving the grieving to wonder: Why didn't we listen?  In the case of the devastating earthquake on Friday, India can now regretfully dust off the widely neglected "Report of the Expert Group on Natural Disaster Prevention, Preparedness and Mitigation having bearing on Housing and Related Infrastructure."

Despite the tongue twister of a title, this three-volume government study, published in 1998, had a simple point to make: "Disasters don't kill people, buildings do." And in India, "The number of unsafe buildings is increasing every day."

The problem is not a lack of construction standards, just an indifference to them, concluded a committee of eminent engineers and scientists, who spent two and a half years working on the painstaking study for the Ministry of Urban Affairs and Employment.

"Sadly, our work has been ignored, but that's the way things are in a developing country," said T. N. Gupta, who convened the group for the government. "Preparedness is not the policy in India. We respond to disasters only after they have taken place."  The committee advocated a vast program of "retrofitting" to make buildings less apt to crumble. Its "Guidelines: Improving Earthquake Resistance of Housing" is a how-to book on better ways to mix mortar and inject epoxy and reinforce clay walls with cane poles. But little of the advice has been heeded. Throughout the state of Gujarat, scene of the current calamity, buildings collapsed in the manner of the best-known clichés: like a house of cards and a ton of bricks. Down went the concrete walls in Ahmedabad, the stonewalls in Bhuj, the mud walls of the surrounding villages.

"To be earthquake resistant, you need sufficient knowledge of engineering," Mr. Gupta said. "It's not that hard, but the average mason does not know what to do."  A few sound building principles can make a big difference, he added. "We had an earthquake in Latur that killed 9,700 people," he said. "An earthquake of the same intensity in California killed five."

While compliance with Indian building standards is not mandatory, the authorities must approve construction plans and award stability certificates in places with a population above 5,000, Mr. Gupta said.  "But the people who give the approval have no expertise," he complained. "Anyway, most builders want to do things as cheaply as possible and they can get their plans approved by greasing the right palms."

In small villages, people usually build their own houses. Sometimes, they get the advice of someone with experience in masonry. But homes are rarely made to withstand severe tremors or heavy winds…




JANUARY 2001; UNISDR MONTHLY HIGHLIGHTS, United Nations Secretariat for the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, Vol IV, Issue 1:  We are all saddened by the significant loss of life and widespread destruction, which have occurred as a result of the recent earthquakes in El Salvador and India. In the wake of the disasters, the international community has responded generously to the needs of the affected population. Nevertheless, while solidarity and support will go a long way in rebuilding and restoring the dignity of the survivors faced with such devastation and suffering, a fundamental shift in the approach to disasters is necessary. In this context, the Secretary-General of the United Nations Mr. Kofi Annan, has reminded us that ‘we must, … shift from a culture of reaction to a culture of prevention. The humanitarian community does a remarkable job in responding to disasters. But the most important task in the medium and long term is to strengthen and broaden programmes which reduce the number and cost of disasters in the first place. … Prevention is not only more humane than cure; it is also much cheaper’.


Disasters are not confined to particular regions, nor do they discriminate between developing and developed countries. The forest fires which raged for several weeks in California in the United States last year, and the recent devastation caused by floods in several parts of Europe, most notably in France, Italy, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, are painful reminders of the increasing vulnerability of developed, and not only developing, countries to natural disasters as well as to environmental and related technological hazards.


Nevertheless, the developing countries are much more severely affected, especially in terms of the loss of lives and the percentage of economic losses in relation to their Gross National Product. …Poverty is a main factor that has contributed to vulnerable living conditions. But other factors such as inappropriate land-use planning; poorly designed buildings and infrastructure; lack of institutional arrangements to deal with risk reduction and emergency management, not to mention an adequate increasingly degraded environment, epitomised by widespread deforestation, are all linked to the current trend. Recent catastrophic earthquakes highlight other key deficiencies in the approach to disaster management, such as a poor understanding by decision makers of seismic related risk, as well as the tendency of some builders, to use the cheapest designs and construction materials to increase short-term economic returns on their investment.  It is significant that in the case of the earthquake in India, many of the homes and commercial buildings which collapsed in Gujarat were built recently while the older structures survived.  Clearly this underlines the importance of disaster resistant construction which the government has declared its intention to enforce. 

Looking beyond El Salvador and India, it is a sobering statistic that in 1999, disasters resulted in over 100,000 deaths and economic losses in excess of US$ 100 billion which in fact reflect an annual increase of approximately 10 per cent during the decade of the nineties. Extrapolating from this trend, it is projected that by the year 2065 the economic losses due to disasters are likely to account for a significant proportion of total global GDP. …





The words of Dawood Ismail, an earthquake survivor in Kutch, echo those of Dr. Suri. "There is nothing left between the sky and the earth anymore. Everything has been demolished."



Some villagers talk of returning to traditional mud and straw structures instead of the "modern" limestone [and concrete] buildings that proved fatally vulnerable on January 26.