are by far the most deadly natural disasters in the world. Since 1975,
they have killed 340,000 people. Every year, since the beginning of
this century, they have caused an average of 20,000 deaths. A third
of the world's population lives in areas considered to be "at risk".
In the last 15 years, almost 5,000 people have died in earthquakes occurring
in countries of the European Union. In 1980, a terrible earthquake struck
southern Italy, killing 4,580 people and leaving 250,000 homeless. More
recently, in 1995, tremors shook the Greek region of Grevena and, in
1997, an earthquake in Assisi caused extensive damage and human suffering.
There have always been earthquakes. Damage seems greater today for two
reasons. First of all, countries are more densely populated, including
those at risk. Secondly, there is new industrial infrastructure that
may be vulnerable in the event of an earthquake: gas and oil pipelines,
dams, chemical factories and so on.
European Commission has been taking this danger seriously. Since 1987,
it has provided financial support for around fifty research projects
in the field of earthquakes. As is the case for the other types of disasters,
the emphasis is on a multi-disciplinary approach, bringing together
all the necessary skills and scientific disciplines. The projects have
various strategic objectives. Some aim to define methods for predicting
earthquakes, and in this respect there is still much ground to cover.
Where and when could the earthquake hit? How long might it last? How
powerful will it be? Other projects are working towards strengthening
buildings, bridges and other types of constructions, so as to make them
more resistant to shock waves.
In 1996, the Commission drew up a veritable European "battle plan"
designed to ensure greater protection for citizens of the Union from
the risk of earthquakes. Member States are called upon to strengthen
their information and communication systems, develop international cooperation
(particularly with Japan), and systematically implement Eurocodes, the
anti-earthquake standards system for the construction industry.
VULPIP is studying the resistance of
underground gas and water pipelines based on two experiments in Greece
and France. The project observes the effects of seismic waves along
these pipes - effects that can be felt far from the earthquake's epicentre.
It also offers a choice of materials and joints to prevent the pipelines
from breaking in the event of an accident which would cause other
types of disasters.
Protecting historic cities
The TOSQA project is designed to protect
the historic centres of some "at risk" cities from the effects
of earthquakes. It is based on a comparative study of four cities :
Naples and Castiglione Causeria (Italy), Rhodes (Greece), and Lisbon
(Portugal). Following an experiment in Lisbon, for example, a new protection
system has been developed on a larger scale for the façades of
A test-site near Thessaloniki
A scientific test-site has been established in a very earthquake-prone
area 30 kilometres from Thessaloniki (Northern Greece). The project,
is examining the various seismic movements over a long period of time,
providing vital information on the interaction between soil behaviour
and different constructions. The conclusions drawn, particularly regarding
the impact of seismic movements on buildings, will be directly applicable
to similar urban areas in Europe.