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  • Earthquake model could help reduce risks in Middle East

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[CAIRO] A detailed database of active seismic faults in the Middle East, and a model that maps earthquake risk and evaluates mitigation strategies, were presented by scientists at The Seismological Society of America annual meeting last week (13–15 April).

But experts have warned that the model will only be of value if policymakers are willing to use the data that it produces.

The Earthquake Model of the Middle East Region (EMME) aims to improve assessment of earthquake hazard and risk of structural damage, casualties and economic losses in one of the "most seismically vulnerable regions worldwide", Levent Gülen, a coordinator of the project, told SciDev.Net.

The region's vulnerability stems from a high probability of earthquakes combined with a population boom, poor construction standards and lack of proper mitigation strategies, said Gülen, who is also head of the geophysics department at Sakarya University, Turkey.

Finalisation of the first detailed database of seismic faults in the region marks the mid-term point of the EMME project, which started in 2009 as one of the regional programmes of the Global Earthquake Model (GEM).

The researchers, from institutions in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Georgia, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Syria and Turkey, hope to finish data collection and work on the final model by early 2013.

Policymakers will be able to use the model's outputs to plan mitigation of seismic risk in their cities, according to Rasheed Jaradat, professor of earth and environmental sciences at Yarmouk University in Jordan.

"The users and beneficiaries of EMME project will be broad," he said at an EMME meeting in Amman, Jordan, last month (31 March). "It will include all those who make decisions based on seismic risk: seismic agencies, engineers and practitioners, government officials, insurance and finance industries, emergency workers, risk professionals, homeowners, investors, and the population at large."

But Abuo El-Ela Amin Mohamed, head of the seismology department at the Egyptian National Research Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics (NRIAG), in Cairo, told SciDev.Net "how policymakers in the Middle East act on the available data from such a model is the main barrier to making good use of EMME findings".

For example, he said, NRIAG collaborated with the Seismic eArly Warning for EuRope project to estimate earthquake hazards in Cairo and Nile Delta cities, finding them highly vulnerable because of poor construction.

However, "no political decision had been made based on the project findings and recommendations … although huge destruction may occur if a strong earthquake hits the region," he added.

But Nicole Keller, a GEM spokesperson said: "We believe that regional projects such as EMME have higher chances than ever of being considered by local decision makers and politicians, exactly because they are part of this global initiative."

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