Buried alive

Amal Chatterjee
8 min readJul 19, 2019

Source : Google photo of a man made disaster

Synopsis : People continue to die needlessly when their old and dilapidated houses collapse on them all of a sudden but there is nothing sudden about it because such disasters can be prevented by evacuating people from unsafe dwellings before it happens. But people do not listen in spite of warnings because they have no other alternative. The blog looks at the alternatives.

When Anarkali was buried alive by the order of a cruel king in India because as a court dancer she fell in love with the crown prince, she suffered agonizing pain but her sacrifice for love made her immortal in the annals of history . People still shed tears on her grave in Lahore where they put flowers and wish they too could have such love for a person but Anarkali died through no fault of her own. Please read my blog called The price they paid for love here.

The death of Anarkali was a man made tragedy because one king could not accept a court dancer no matter how beautiful and talented marrying a crown prince so she was ordered killed in the most painful way possible. This sort of punishment has been repeated many times that are recorded in the annals of history that people still read and disapprove the injustice of it . The honor killings that are still practiced in some countries where a woman may be punished this way for marrying a person the parents and the tribal societies do not approve of are a barbaric act that is condemned all over the world but it is still a part of the tribal culture in India and Pakistan that endures. These are all man made tragedies that can be avoided if people practice kindness and understanding.

But I would now like to write about other types of man made tragedies that are no less painful that are preventable yet occur on a routine basis.

Recently a tall building in Mumbai collapsed due to heavy rains and the poor structure of the building where many lived and died suddenly buried under tons of rubble. Some of their cries could be heard faintly under the rubble but the rescue workers could not get to them fast enough so they died. Those who were pulled out alive were so gravely injured that they could not make it to a hospital.

The city municipal engineers had warned the owner of the building that the building was not safe and could collapse any time but the owner continued to ignore such warning because he was collecting huge rents from the tenants who probably had nowhere else to go so this tragedy was just waiting to happen. This is a man made tragedy that could have been avoided if the owner had listened to the warning of the engineers.

You do not hear of people getting buried under tons of rubble in the villages anywhere in Africa because the villagers do not live in concrete houses that are ten story tall. They live in small mud wall huts that may get damaged by rain a bit that they can easily repair. But people who live in big cities like Mumbai are frequent victims of such tragedies when their tall buildings collapse all of a sudden taking many lives.

The natural disasters like earthquake claim thousands of lives in many countries that no one can predict or do anything about because the nature is so powerful and can strike without warning. Remember the big earthquake in Bam in Iran and Port au Prince in Haiti? Part of Mexico City and the entire city of El Asnam in Algeria were leveled by earthquakes that took many lives but it is a natural disaster that could not be prevented.

Now some countries that are prone to earthquake are trying to build earthquake proof buildings using modern technology like in Japan but the force of nature is often too strong to overcome so the Kobe earthquake leveled a part of the city.

But the man made tragedies like the one in Mumbai could have been prevented if the tenants had moved to safer locations when they were warned of an impending disaster so why didn’t they ? Why would anyone live in a building that could collapse anytime?

The answer lies in poverty. If you go to Kolkata, you will notice four or five story buildings right in the middle of the city that are so dilapidated that can collapse anytime but people continue to occupy them because they have nowhere else they can move to. They pay 2 or 4 dollars per month in rent so the landlord gets practically nothing from the rent and has no money to renovate the building. The renters can’t be evicted easily because the court battle in India is lengthy and costly so the owners just abandon their property.

In all big cities in India and elsewhere in the world one may find such death traps where poor people live at the great risk of their life because they find no alternative. In more developed countries like the United States and in Europe , there are stringent building codes for building tall buildings so the owners are punished if they violate those codes. The old buildings are routinely torn down to make room for new and modern buildings so the man made disasters are minimized to a great extent. You will also notice that the middle income people prefer to live in suburbs that are not too far from the place of their work so they live in the safety of their own homes that are well built.

The poor people who can’t afford suburban living stay in the city dwellings that are often 5 or 6 story ugly tenement houses built by the government but poorly maintained. You will see such tenement housing for the poor in all big cities in the United States and in many big cities in Europe as well because poor people are everywhere so they must be sheltered.

In communist countries like China and North Korea, they provide housing for everybody and often build more than what people need so you will find thousands of well built empty apartments , empty malls and other buildings in some parts of China where people do not live. People live where they find jobs so you cannot entice people to move to new apartments somewhere because there are no jobs for them there. I have seen the same phenomenon in Spain where thousands of well built apartments lie vacant.

Source : Google photo of ghost cities in China

The buildings that are very tall like in New York are built that way because the cost of land there is very high so they have no choice but to go up. This is the trend now worldwide so you will find the high rise buildings everywhere where people live like in pigeon holes packed tightly together. In Manila, the buildings are so tall that the fire department can’t reach them in case of fire in the upper floors.

To decongest the big cities like Mumbai, the government has started building suburbs where people can move to but the cost may be beyond the reach of poor people so they stay put where they are. Who wants to move if the rent they pay per month is only 4 dollars?

The man made disasters that are waiting to happen are also linked to the level of corruption that is found in many countries like India . Often you will read about an overpass collapsing somewhere killing hundreds of unsuspecting people or a bridge collapsing because it was built by corrupt people who stole cement from the construction site and put more sand in the concrete. The government projects suffer from such corruption that leads to death of innocent people.

What is the solution?

To prevent the man made disasters like the collapse of an old and unsafe building, the tenants first need an alternative before they can leave so it is the duty of the government to provide the alternative by building affordable housing for the poor somewhere that are linked by road and rail link. Forced evacuation of tenants without giving them an alternative just does not work anywhere. People do not like to live in an unsafe place so they will move readily if an alternative is provided to them. It can even be a temporary solution until the old unsafe buildings are torn down and new ones built that the tenants can move back into later. This is one possibility but it needs resources that poor countries do not have so what is the solution ?

Source : Google photo of Jimmy Carter and his habitat for humanity program

I really appreciate the effort of President Jimmy Carter who started building the affordable low cost houses for the poor in many countries through his Habitat for humanity program that uses volunteers and innovative low cost building techniques but cannot build houses for all the poor in the world. It can only show the way it can be done cheaply so the countries with housing problems can learn from it.

Secondly the governments have to fight corruption and make sure that the contractors build safe and solid houses under strict government supervision.

Lastly the affordable houses built on mass scale using the prefabricated walls and tops that can be quickly assembled should be looked at by the housing authorities to help the poor people. Many countries are using the pre fabricated methods of building strong and modern houses that do not require any finishing and can be ready in just a few days.

Here is a video I found that shows how to build a modern house using specially built cement blocks that lock with each other without needing cement mortar and can be assembled in a short time by unskilled people . The cost of the finished house is only USD 2500 so it could be adopted for mass housing.


<iframe width=”640" height=”360" src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/EBkv5jjjhJ0" frameborder=”0" allow=”accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture” allowfullscreen></iframe>

Source : U tube video of low cost houses assembly.

We all dream of living in our own beautiful home somewhere someday if such a home could be built at a price we can afford without borrowing money so that we do not have to live in dilapidated houses that can collapse on us anytime.

There is nothing worse than lying under tons of rubble and hoping that someone hears your cry of anguish and pain and see the hope slowly fade away as you breathe your last.

Note : My blogs are also available in French, Spanish, German and Japanese languages at the following links as well as my biography:

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Anil’s biography in English.

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