Pakistan earthquake, Tectonic Setting, Geological Instability, Regional Seismicity, Earthquake activity and major faults, Seismic risk, Recent earthquakes, Future earthquakes, Lessons learned - Dr. George Pararas-Carayannis

Tsunami, Earthquakes, Hurricanes, Volcanic Eruptions, Climate Change and other Natural and Man-Made Hazards and Disasters - Disaster Archaeology, Other Miscellaneous Writings



George Pararas-Carayannis

Excerpts from paper published in the Proceedings of the Geological and Geotechnical Influences in the Preservation of Historical and Cultural Heritage
GeoBen2000 - Moncalieri Castle, Stupinigi Castle- Torino, Italy 7-8-9 June 2000

© 2000 George Pararas-Carayannis / all rights reserved


Natural hazards continue to pose a significant threat to mankind in the new millennium in spite of international efforts to mitigate their effects through warning systems and international cooperation in disaster preparedness established through programs such as the International Decade on Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR) in the last decade of the 20th Century. The momentum of worldwide efforts in hazard mitigation continues to grow, with the major emphasis being placed in the protection of life and property. To the toll of natural hazards, we must now add the toll of man-made hazards, such as pollution of the atmosphere and of the seas, climatic changes, and the effects of industrial accidents, civil strife and wars.

Although commitments have been made to study hazards better and to apply techniques that will reduce mankind's overall vulnerability, very little effort has gone into the protection of threatened sites around the world where monuments of historical, archaeological, ethnological or anthropological value exist. Such sites are important because they represent masterpieces of the human creative genius, bearing testimony to cultural traditions of past civilizations and illustrating prominent stages in human history with artistic works of outstanding universal significance. These are sites which need protection from the effects of all hazards because of their importance in mankind's cultural heritage and evolution - a legacy from the past which must be preserved for future generations as they are irreplaceable sources of inspiration and points of reference to human identity, intelligence and civilization. As such, these world heritage sites represent resources of outstanding universal value, which belong to all the peoples of the world, regardless of the territory on which they are located and national sovereignty or ownership.

Cultural Heritage Site: Heraion, Samos Island, Greece

It is the duty of the international community as a whole, and the international scientific community in particular, to protect the integrity of such cultural heritage sites from the destructive effects of natural and man-made hazards. Already some sites with recognized cultural value have deteriorated, or have been partly destroyed, or are in imminent danger due to the effects of such diverse disasters as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, land subsidence, pollution, acid rains or the outbreak of civil strife and wars. The present paper identifies some of the outstanding cultural sites in the Mediterranean Basin, analyzes hazard risks for these sites and outlines a global strategy and a plan of action on expanding international scientific cooperation among technical experts in disaster mitigation to include the protection and conservation of threatened cultural sites in critical areas of the world.


The deterioration or destruction of cultural heritage sites constitutes a harmful loss to humanity as such sites represent unique and irreplaceable properties of great value to mankind's legacy. In 1972, recognizing the importance and need to safeguard these sites from a variety of hazards, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) held a World Heritage Convention. The Convention identified that the threat of destruction of cultural heritage sites included not only the traditional causes of weathering and aging decay, but also changing social and economic conditions around the world. Since 1972, the Convention established a very successful international program with the participation of 132 member nations. In the last three decades, and as a result of this coordinated international effort, hundreds of cultural heritage sites around the world were selected, protected, restored and, in many cases, saved from total destruction.

Egypt: Luxor Colon Amenophis

Although remarkable progress has been made, the focus of the international program has been placed primarily on the impact of rapidly changing social and economic conditions and to a much lesser extent on mitigating the effects of existing environmental dangers or on assessing the threat of future natural and man-made hazards on cultural heritage sites. Many of these heritage sites around the world remain vulnerable to the adverse impacts of pollution, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, landslides, floods, changes in water level, serious fires, armed conflicts and multitudes of other disasters. The increasing scope and importance of the Convention makes it imperative now that a new international organization be established to address specifically these threats to cultural heritage sites. Such organization could bring together teams of international experts with the necessary qualifications in the earth, environmental and geotechnical sciences with their counterparts in archaeology, history and culture. Converging the talents and contributory inputs of such diverse group of experts into a strategically organized group under a new and more specialized organization, would make it easier and more effective to address some of the unique problems related to the preservation and protection of cultural heritage sites from natural and man made hazards. Furthermore, the proposed organization would augment and complement greatly the goals and objectives of the Convention.

To illustrate the above stated need for action by the international scientific community, the present paper provides a brief overview of the dangers that natural and man-made hazards present to cultural heritage sites by summarizing some the past, present and potential future impacts. Then, it provides a few examples of adverse impacts of hazards on a few select sites in the Mediterranean Region. Finally, the paper : a) proposes the establishment of new specialized organization that can focus on long term geotechnical planning for the protection and preservation of cultural heritage sites from adverse impacts of disasters; b) outlines preliminary goals and objectives for such organization; and c) recommends that UNESCO declares the next decade of the new millennium to be an International Decade for the Protection of Cultural Heritage Sites from Disasters (IDPCHSD)


Major natural and man-made disasters have always created havoc and destruction all over the planet. Weather-related natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, heavy thunder, storms, flooding, mud/rock slides, high winds, hail, severe winter weather, avalanches, extreme high heat, droughts, wildfires have taken a great toll on humanity. Similarly destructive have been the non weather-related natural disasters, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis. In recent years earthquakes have caused destruction and claimed thousands of human lives throughout the world. The percentage of earthquakes causing 1,000 + fatalities has increased by 10% causing approximately 1.4 million deaths since 1910.

Man-made hazards have also taken a heavy toll. Continuous population growth has disturbed the delicate balance between ecosystems on our planet. There is pollution of the atmosphere and of the seas, destruction of the rain forests, fires burning out of control, alterations of sensitive ecosystems, destruction of the ozone layer, climatic changes not fully comprehended. Chemical spills have polluted rivers and watersheds. Toxic material emissions, civil strife, wars and acts of terrorism present now the greater dangers for mankind. Since 1945, civil strife and wars around the world have killed more than 20 million people in 150 regional conflicts alone. A research group of the National Defense Council Foundation, cited 70 armed conflicts in 1994, up from 62 in 1993. The trend is clear, armed conflicts and complex man-made disasters, are increasing in frequency and severity in various parts of the world.

Natural and man-made hazards not only have caused losses of hundreds of thousands of human lives but have also adversely affected many important cultural heritage sites around the world by causing deterioration, partial damage, total destruction or the loss of cultural value. Natural and man-made disasters represent a real potential threat for these sites in the future.


The impact of natural and made-made disasters on cultural heritage sites around the world, has been extensive. The following examples summarize and illustrate the diversity of adverse impacts on a few select sites in the Mediterranean Region.

Impact of Armed Conflict on World Heritage Sites in the Republic of Croatia

In 1991 and 1992, the World Heritage sites of Dubrovnik, Plitvice and Split suffered damage as a result of armed conflict in the area. According to the World Heritage Center, the ancient city of Dubrovnik was subjected to artillery bombardment and 563 civil and religious buildings (70 per cent of the total) were hit by some 2,000 shells and 9 buildings (7 palaces and 2 houses) were totally destroyed by fire while the roofs of 4 others were partially burned. Cultural heritage sites in the Republics of Croatia and Slovania continue to be in peril by the threat of future conflict in the region.




Croatia, Dubrovnic -Lovri jenac





The Effects of the 12 October 1992 Earthquake on World Heritage Sites in Egypt

Cultural Heritage Site: Luxor, Egypt; Court of Amenophis

On 12 October 1992, an earthquake in Egypt caused severe damage to a number of cultural heritage sites including some 150 Pharaonic, Coptic and Islamic monuments. Apart from a few cracks, the Temple of Luxor was spared from destruction. However to what extent the earthquake weakened the structure is not known. At Kom Ombo, earthquake ground motions were so severe as to dislodge and drop to the ground two large blocks, each weighing ten tons. Prior assessment and structural reinforcement could have prevented this damage. The Cheops and Sakkarah pyramids lost some stones and the surface of the Chephren pyramid suffered some fissuring. Other Pharaonic monuments were similarly affected.

Cultural Heritage Site: Luxor, Egypt; Temple of Philae

The World Heritage Center reported that elsewhere in the region, the Coptic and, especially, the Islamic monuments suffered the greatest damage. According to surveys, the Blue Mosque and the Al-Hussein Mosque suffered serious fissuring and the vault of the Tachtuchi Mosque collapsed. The minarets of several other mosques were weakened, becoming detached from the main structure of their mosques. All these mosques were affected by atypical vertical fissuring. Fissuring and the dislodgement of stones occurred also at Al Azhar, Ibn Touloun, Al Ghouri, the mausoleum of Quayt Bey and the recently restored Bichtaq palace. A number of churches in the Coptic quarter, notably the Suspended Church of Al Moallaqah, also suffered similar damage. It is not known to what extent the structures were weakened by this earthquake or what the next event will do..

Effects of Civil Strife and Neglect on the Cultural Heritage Site of Butrint, Albania

Cultural Heritage Site: Butrint, Albania: Germadha

Many cultural heritage sites in Albania are threatened by man-made and natural hazards. The cultural heritage site of Butrint in Albania, is an example. Butrint has been the site of a Greek colony, a Roman city, and a bishopric. The site was inhabited since prehistoric times. Subsequently, Butrint was under Byzantine administration, then after a brief occupation by the Venetians. The city was abandoned in the late Middle Ages after marshes formed in the area. The present archaeological site is a repository of the ruins representing each period in the city's development. Recent threats to Butrint included the impact of civil disturbances in the country in early 1997 and the looting of the site museum during these civil disturbances. The site continues to be in peril by the threat of conflict in the region, as well as to the potential impact of natural hazards, such as earthquakes.

Cultural Heritage Site: Butrinti, Albania: by Petri Omer

Threats to Cultural Heritage Sites in the Old City of Jerusalem

The Old City of Jerusalem represents exceptional value and unique religious and cultural significance for humanity. This site is threatened by serious dangers and specific destruction of religious properties due to urban development plans, deterioration of monuments due to lack of maintenance and responsible management, as well as by the disastrous impact of tourism on the protection of the monuments. To the dangers, those related to civil strife must be added.

Cultural Heritage Site: Walls of Jerusalem

Among Jerousalem's 220 monuments identified by the World Heritage Center, threatened are the walls of the period of Herod the Great, the enormous vaulted substructures now known as the Stables of Solomon, the portal of a Roman colony known as Aelia Capitolina, the rare vestiges of the triumphal arches erected by Emperor Hadrian and the Jewish synagogues of Ramban, Ben Zakkai, Stamboulli and Elijah the Prophet.



Adverse Impacts of Earthquakes and Other Disasters on Cultural Heritage Sites in Greece

Many archaeological, cultural heritage sites in Greece have been impacted adversely in the past by earthquakes and other disasters and have sustained considerable damage. For example at Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic games, inspection of columns and collapsed buildings indicates a constant directional pattern of structural failures consistent with seismic faulting of past earthquakes.

Cultural Heritage Site: Byzantine Monastery of Daphni

As recently as September 9, 1999, a 5.9 magnitude earthquake struck near the city of Athens and the surrounding area causing considerable destruction and posing an immense threat to hundreds of archaeological sites in the area - sites of major importance to classical Greek archaeology and to the understanding of the ancient Mediterranean world. As a result of this earthquake, the archaeological site of the Monastery of Daphni , located near the epicenter, suffered considerable damage. Although no significant damage to other cultural sites was reported, there has been no expert assessment of the effects of the earthquake in weakening the structural integrity of the numerous archaeological sites in the area. Many of these sites located near seismically active faults continue to be threatened by future events. Acid rain and air pollution are other hazards that have accelerated the weathering processes and the deterioration of hundreds of other cultural heritage sites in Greece. The Pythagoreion and the Heraion of Samos are among them. Fortunately, the problem has been recognized and protective efforts have been initiated for many such sites. For example, the monuments of Asklepieion at the archaeological site of Epidauros are being presently restored. Also restoration continues at the Parthenon and other monuments on the Acropolis.

Ancient Knossos on the Island of Crete

Adverse Impacts of Natural Disasters on Cultural Heritage Sites in Italy

Italy is another country with numerous sites of immense cultural significance for mankind. In spite of continuous efforts, many of its cultural sites continue to be threatened by natural catastrophes. For example Gerace, in Southern Calabria, and many of its monuments, cathedral, castle and monasteries, have been adversely affected by frequent natural disasters in the past. Similarly, historical cultural sites in the provinces of Siracusa and Ragusa, on the southern portion of the province of Catania in Sicily, were damaged in the past by frequent landslides and earthquakes in the area. These sites are threatened presently by the potential recurrence of such natural disasters.


In spite of mitigation efforts, losses due to natural and man-made disasters will continue to increase because of our continuing population growth in vulnerable areas such as coastal regions, flood plains, and seismically active zones - the same areas where cultural heritage sites are also located. More and more cultural heritage sites will be adversely affected in the future. However, this does not have to be so. Vulnerable cultural heritage sites can be and must be protected. Advances in the science and technology on hazard mitigation can now provide some means to reduce significantly future losses. It is incumbent that the international scientific community understands and assesses better the effects that natural and man made hazards have on cultural heritage sites and finds, applies, or recommends techniques that will reduce future vulnerability.

Concerted scientific and engineering efforts must be made to assess the present state of cultural heritage sites, their vulnerability to natural or man made hazards and the feasibility of reducing future damages or destruction. For example, if a cultural heritage site is found to be located near a seismically active fault , anti-seismic retrofit measures can be taken to protect it from the effects of future earthquakes. Certain, man-made disasters, such as chemical spills or accidents, can be prevented with proper regulation and supervision of industries that cause them. Public awareness, community-based support and governmental sponsorship to protect cultural heritage sites, can be achieved through educational programs. Scientific research can help identify better and more cost-effective, disaster mitigation strategies for these sites. International efforts must continue and put equal emphasis on scientific programs, engineering capabilities, and in the national and international response to economic needs to protect cultural heritage sites , particularly those in the developing countries of the world. Although the scientific community may be unable to do much about man-made hazards such as those associated with war and civil strife, scientists as citizens of this planet have the moral responsibility to raise the consciousness of their governments to prevent armed conflicts from damaging cultural heritage sites. Responsible government policies should be aimed at preventing or mitigating the consequences of armed conflicts on our environment. International treaties for the protection of cultural heritage sites must be agreed upon.


Although there are numerous natural and man-made disasters, fortunately only a few of the major ones may affect adversely any particular cultural heritage site. The vulnerability of each site will depend on its geographical location, the regional environmental/geological parameters and its present condition. In each case, a detailed risk analysis must be undertaken to evaluate serious, specific, ascertained and potential dangers threatening the site. Existing or potential dangers from man-made and natural hazards are those that threaten a cultural heritage site with severe deterioration, damage, destruction, or other irreversible modifications. The threat factors can be established by similar criteria of "ascertained" and "potential" dangers, as those adopted by the World Heritage Convention.

Ascertained Danger: For example, "ascertained danger" would mean that a cultural heritage site is faced with specific and proven imminent threat from a man-made or natural hazard that would result in: a) serious deterioration of materials; b) serious deterioration of structure and/or ornamental features; d) serious deterioration of urban or rural space, or the natural environment. In the case of ascertained danger, the physical or cultural deteriorations to which a site has been subjected should be judged according to the intensity of the hazard effects and analyzed on a case by case basis.

Potential Dangers: "Potential danger" would mean that the cultural heritage site is faced with major, man-made or natural disaster threats which could have deleterious effects on its inherent characteristics. For example, threats from "potential danger" may include:

a) gradual changes due to geological, climatic or other environmental factors;

b) an impending natural disaster;

c) the outbreak or threat of armed conflict;

d) threatening effects of regional-planning projects;

e) Severe deterioration as by human settlement, construction, industrial and agricultural development including use of chemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers, major public works, pollution, etc.;

f) Human encroachment threatening a site's loss of cultural value or its physical integrity.

Natural disasters of greatest potential threat to cultural heritage sites would be earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, floods, tsunamis, serious fires and changes in water level. Above all in the case of assessing potential danger to a cultural heritage site, one should consider that some threats , such as demographic growth, are not imminent in nature but can only be anticipated.

16th Century BC - Royal Cemetery at Mycenae, Greece

Of the man-made disasters, armed conflict and civil strife pose the greatest threat to the integrity of cultural heritage sites. It may be often impossible to assess the potential threat of armed conflicts or civil strife as to their effect on cultural heritage sites. However, efforts could be coordinated so that, if such conflicts erupt, there is an understanding that the integrity of cultural heritage sites should be respected and protected. Finally, another irreversible man-made hazard is the gradual human encroachment upon a cultural heritage site. The proximity of planned resettlement or development projects to a site presents a great potential danger. Although less obvious, such human encroachment can be serious threat that could significantly diminish a site's cultural value.


The increasing scope and importance of the World Heritage Convention makes it imperative that a new organization be established that can bring together international experts for the purpose of focusing on long term planning for the protection and preservation of cultural heritage sites from the adverse impacts of man-made and natural disasters. Teams of experts with the necessary qualifications in the earth, environmental and geotechnical sciences, could collaborate closely with experts in archaeology, history and culture to accomplish the following mandate: 1) support national efforts towards safeguarding the integrity of cultural heritage sites; 2) identify and demonstrate the reality of serious and specific dangers of man made and natural hazards threatening cultural heritage sites.

Specific Goals and Objectives of the Proposed Organization

In view of the magnitude and gravity of natural and man-made hazards threatening cultural heritage sites, it is incumbent on the international scientific community to participate in the protection of these sites by rendering their collective assistance and expertise to action programs in accordance to modern scientific methods and principles. A new, specialized organization of geoscientists and geotechnologists is proposed to work closely under the auspices of the World Heritage Convention to augment and complement the Convention's goals and objectives. The proposed organization would converge the talents and contributory inputs of a diverse group of experts in the earth sciences into a strategically organized association with their counterparts in archaeology, history and culture. The new Group would address the unique concerns of ascertained and potential dangers stated above, as they relate specifically to the preservation and protection of cultural heritage sites from natural and man made hazards. The organization's primary responsibilities, goals and objectives would be:

1. to promote the World Heritage Convention's objectives in the protection of cultural heritage sites from the impact of man-made and natural hazards;
2. to support national efforts towards safeguarding the integrity of cultural heritage sites;
3. to identify "ascertained" and "potential" dangers from natural and man-made hazards threatening cultural heritage sites;
4. to evaluate the potential impact of hazards on specific cultural heritage sites and conduct risk assessment analysis;
5. to ensure effective monitoring of sites for protection from hazards;
6. to determine the means by which adverse impacts of natural or man-made hazards could be alleviated or mitigated;
7. to conduct in situ surveys and identify the extent of damage, if any, from such hazards soon after their occurrence;
8. to recommend to the World Heritage Committee, or UNESCO, the means by which cultural heritage sites can be protected from man-made and natural hazards;
9. to participate in the preparation and application of the decisions and to arrange and supervise the financing of protection projects;
10. to coordinate with other groups and governmental and intergovernmental authorities and organizations and to call on the support of the various sectors of UNESCO, especially the culture and science sectors and other associated consultative bodies.


The United Nations declared the decade 1990-2000 as the International Decade for the Reduction of Natural Disasters (IDNDR). IDNDR has been a very successful international program that contributed significantly to mankind' s physical safety from the adverse impact of natural disasters. A natural progression of the Decade's goal should be to safeguard mankind's cultural heritage and legacy. It is proposed that Congress 2000 drafts a resolution recommending the first decade of the new millennium to be declared as the International Decade for the Protection of Cultural Heritage Sites from Disasters (IDPCHSD). Furthermore, it is proposed that Congress 2000 forms a Working Group of Geoscientists to hold a workshop for the purpose of identifying additional goals to those suggested above and to promote the declaration by UNESCO of a new Decade that will focus on the protection of cultural heritage sites.


Presently, cultural heritage sites around the world are inadequately protected from rapidly changing social and economic conditions and even less protected from the effects of existing and potential natural and man-made hazards. Safeguarding these sites from such hazards is extremely important as they represent unique and irreplaceable properties of great value to the world's heritage. Although scientific and technological resources to protect the sites exist, these resources are not always properly utilized or coordinated. Considering the magnitude and gravity of the dangers threatening the sites, it is incumbent that the international scientific community participates actively and collectively in their protection through an internationally coordinated program similar to the IDNDR.

A first step, would be a propitious, in-depth evaluation of the World Heritage Convention actions for consideration of a future strategy in preserving world heritage sites from the real threat of natural and man-made disasters. The international scientific community can: a) develop an interdisciplinary methodology to identify and evaluate risks to the sites from both natural and man-made hazards; b) diffuse existing knowledge on present and potential hazards; and c) recommend the necessary measures that must be taken in each case.

It is proposed that the United Nations declares a new international decade for the conservation and protection of the world's heritage sites from the effects of Natural and Man-Made Disasters (IDPCHSD).

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