Can Rwanda’s tall buildings turn into Intore dancers during earthquakes?

So, there you are, cosily sitting, standing, walking, or whatever, because you are on solid ground, right? Well, wrong! It’d seem the ground under your feet is as shifty as they come.

“Shifty”, mind you, not in the sense of rotating around the sun, no, sir/madam.

Rather, in the sense that, in spite of the fact that we like to confidently state that we are “on solid ground”, the ground below our feet is anything but.

Our earth is made of “faults and fractures, often with ribbons of fluid running through them,” say experts. And that’s not all. There are sediments, clays, bedrock: things we ordinary folk know.

And then those picked up in school like gigantic tectonic plates.

Now, think of all the things in this ‘gatogo’ rubbing against or pulling apart from one another and you’ll get a picture of how our earth is a truly hive of activity; a “tower of toy bricks” waiting for the smallest tremor to crumble, swallowing us up with it.

In short, we are sitting on ‘agatogo’ (mélange) of a globe that’s in busy-bee activity!

When you seriously think of it, “scary” doesn’t begin to define our living predicament!

If it’s of any consolation, we are not lying atop the Pacific Ring of Fire of the Far East. Nor are we, atop the Eurasian and Arabian tectonic plate butt-heads. We are not perched on the North American Plate, the Cocos Plate or the Pacific Plate. Nowhere near the plates beneath South America, the Nazca Plates, either.

These areas are prone to the ferocious effects of earth movements, lying, as they are, on or near active fault lines.

However, that’s no to say that our Rwandan neck of the woods is out of the woods!

Remember active volcanoes like Nyiragongo at our border? And how once in a while they angrily belch out boiling magma that scorches and destroys neighbourhoods? What about tremors and earthquakes, especially in our western part, and how they often rock us all, ‘thanks’ mostly to that angry-belching process impact?

So, like elsewhere in the world, we need specialists who can make sense of any sudden breaking apart of any of our rocks. Or the slipping of tectonic plates if we are sitting on any, especially near the Western Rift. But, particularly, the effects of explosions from volcanic eruptions.

Such specialists, I am told, are called “seismologists”. Now, this special species of clever clogs, aren’t they alien to this land? Tell me, have you ever heard of a Rwandan seismologist?

Moreover, I gather there is a special breed of them known as “the earthquake detectives”.

If we need anybody like we need oxygen, it’s this “earthquake detective” wonder dude!

Remember the precious life of a Rwandan lost the other day? Who knew of the existence of that illegal chalk mine? Who allowed it to operate? Why couldn’t anybody guess there was a risk of it collapsing?

If we had an earthquake detective, such information would be lying in our laps.

Then our seismologist would’ve examined the sediments, clays, bedrock, faults, fractures, whatever else, and told the mine-owners “Gasopo!” With which, we’d have been spared a loss.

In fact, these earthquake-sleuths also examine records of any industrial activity in an area and determine if earthquakes or eruptions are signs of Mother Nature’s fury or are human-induced.

“Human-induced”, yes, because activities like drilling, fracking, injecting quantities of fluid into rock, removing quantities of fossil fuel, these and more, can also set off earthquakes.

Of course, policing our whole earthen ball can only be tackled globally. However, since it means every country being involved, Rwanda, too, should put in her two-penny worth of acquiring capacity to work with others, without forgetting her own self-service.

“Self-service” which doesn’t concern watching the ground under our feet only.

As Rwandan towns get more and more dotted with high-rise concretes, so are the lives of inhabitants put in more and more danger. Here, the earthquake detectives can come in handy.

Because humans and their earth are in constant motion, these concretes need to be able to move in concert with them.

How can concrete move, unless it’s transplanted? Well, don’t ask me; ask the Japanese, who confidently sit on the Pacific Ring of Fire. I am told that when an earthquake gives their concrete a jolt, the concrete jolts along joyously! Magic, ain’t it, you’ll wonder!

Actually, it ain’t. “To withstand…forces of an earthquake,” says BBC, “buildings…absorb…seismic energy…” The structures are put on shock absorbers, which are sometimes blocks of rubber pads, on which sit building columns.

In addition to those, they are given what are called “dampers”, which look like some huge bicycle pumps. Only, they are filled with water instead of air. Compress the pump and it pushes against the liquid, putting to shame Mother Nature’s efforts to rattle buildings with vibrations.

Once thus secured, when hit by an earthquake, the skyscraper will be agilely jumping up and down and elegantly swaying this way and that better than the best of our Intore dancers!

Yes, Rwanda’s next-generation skyscrapers can be Intore dancers during earthquakes.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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