Shanghai and Delhi police probe building accidents in Asia's economic powerhouses

Building disasters in Shanghai and Delhi have killed more than 100 people this week, highlighting unregulated growth in Asia’s economic powerhouses.

Color China Photo/AP
Firefighters spray water on an apartment building on fire in the downtown area of Shanghai, east China, on Monday, Nov. 15. The state news agency says the fire in the high-rise apartment building in China's business center of Shanghai has killed at least 50 people and injured another 70.

The pace of urban expansion in India and China is fast and furious. But slap-dash construction methods and lax regulation can have tragic consequences, as evidenced by twin tragedies in the two Asian giants.

In Delhi, an apartment building collapsed Monday, burying over 60 people in the rubble, triggering a criminal investigation into whether illegal construction of an additional floor was to blame. Over 100 migrant families were living in the building.

In Shanghai, a blaze consumed a 28-story tower after electric welders ignited scaffolding during a renovation project. Over 50 people died in the fire, which took four hours to subdue. An additional 70 people were injured, according to Xinhua.

As in Delhi, Chinese authorities have begun an investigation into how the accident started. Many of those trapped inside the building were children and elderly people who were at home in the afternoon when the fire started.

Both Shanghai and Delhi are densely crowded cities. Their combined population is roughly 35 million, depending on where the city limits end. The fact that the Delhi disaster afflicted unregistered migrants crammed into tiny units is telling. The floating population of rural migrants in China’s cities also makes it hard to count the urban population.

The collapsed building in Delhi was located near the Yamuna River that bisects the city. Indian news media reported that the basement of the building had been flooded for several weeks by monsoon rains. A government minister said this may have weakened the foundations and led to the accident.

Shoddy construction has plagued China in recent years. In 2009, a newly built 13-story apartment block in Shanghai collapsed. Other smaller projects have also run into problems such as subsidence and cracked exteriors.

China’s proclivity for flashy fireworks has also left its mark: Last year a luxury hotel opposite the landmark Beijing headquarters of state broadcaster CCTV went up in flames. The fire began during a celebration for the lunar New Year when giant firecrackers were launched above the building.

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