Iran weighs moving capital from Tehran

City is in precarious spot in country particularly prone to earthquakes

January 06, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

TEHRAN, Iran - Iran is considering moving its capital from Tehran after the earthquake last month that devastated the southern city of Bam, killing more than one-third of the population there.

Tehran is on a major seismological fault, and experts have long warned that an earthquake here could be catastrophic. Tehran has a population of more than 12 million and is one of the most earthquake-prone regions in the country.

The head of the country's Supreme National Security Council, Hassan Rowhani, told Iranian state television that the idea of moving the capital was being studied by the council and that a decision would be reached by the end of March, which is the end of the Iranian calendar year.

Rowhani said the council had proposed the plan in 1991.

A government spokesman, Abdollah Ramezanzadeh, said yesterday that moving the capital had also been proposed in 1989 because of the city's large population, chaotic traffic, pollution and earthquake risk.

"There have been contradictory views, and still our experts have not been able to reach a conclusion," he said.

About 100,000 people have been killed in 11 quakes over the past half-century in Iran.

Officials have acknowledged since the Dec. 26 earthquake in Bam, which killed as many as 40,000, that the building codes in Tehran and other cities had not been adequately enforced.

Mud bricks are commonly used to build homes in Iran. They are cheap and popular because they keep houses cool in summer and warm in winter. But they collapse easily in an earthquake.

President Mohammad Khatami said during a news conference last week that there would be an inquiry into construction practices and that those who violated construction codes would be punished. He pointed to a former mayor of Bam who had waived building codes during the construction of a housing complex for war veterans. All the houses crumbled, killing many residents.

The head of the union for the construction engineers, Alireza Sarhadi, told the Iranian Labor News Agency that, according to a recent study, about 70 percent of buildings would be destroyed in Tehran if it were struck by a quake similar to the magnitude of the one in Bam.

Bahram Akasheh, professor of geophysics at Tehran University, wrote in a letter to Khatami that such an earthquake would kill more than 700,000 in Tehran and destroy government buildings, leaving the state powerless to respond.

He proposed moving the capital to the central city of Isfahan, which was the country's capital in the late 16th century. The capital was moved to Tehran in 1788. Tehran was hit by a major earthquake in 1830.

Another scientist, Nasser Karami, proposed in the daily newspaper Hamshahri yesterday that old buildings be strengthened instead. He argued that the only seismologically safe places in the country were in the unlivable desert of central Iran.

Hassan Moghimi, the construction deputy at the Interior Ministry, was quoted in the newspaper Shargh as saying that the government had approved a $300 million budget for reconstruction of old buildings in Tehran and six other cities.

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