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Expert Opinions

Reducing the effects of disasters through proper maintenance and sound structural design

Veronica Grasso
Programme Specialist
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)


In the past three decades, many major disasters have occurred throughout the world. Between 1980 and 2010, for instance, more than 26,000 people were killed.  The high risk associated with natural hazards is not only due to natural characteristics of the countries (i.e. level of seismicity, topography, etc.) but also to human interventions (urbanization in high-risk areas, deforestation, water and land management etc.).

In Italy, on 6 April 2009, a 5.8 earthquake struck the city of L’Aquila,  destroying entire parts of the historical centre and several surrounding towns, and taking the lives of more than 200 people.

A hospital that had been inaugurated only nine years previously collapsed and had to be closed down only a few hours after the event—at a time when it would have been most needed. 

And in Haiti, key government offices were among the more than 100,000 buildings that were severely damaged as a result of the January 2010 earthquake. This hampered the disaster response phase immediately after the earthquake.

Ensuring maintenance of the built environment and proper structural design are therefore key; and critical infrastructure (such as hospitals, government buildings, and the assets that are essential for the functioning of a society) need special attention. The design of this infrastructure needs to be based on standards that take risk into account.

The structures need to be closely monitored and maintained, their safety must be assessed regularly and an inventory should be made of the structural characteristics and kept up to date.

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