Tue, Nov 03, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Iran to move capital from Tehran amid fears of earthquake

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

It has witnessed some of Iran’s most tumultuous events: the fall of the shah, the return of Ayatollah Khomeini and the transformation from pro-Western monarchy to revolutionary Islamic republic.

Now Tehran’s days as the Iranian capital appear numbered after a powerful state body approved a plan for a new principal city. The idea was proposed by the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and rubber-stamped by the expediency council. Seismologists have warned that Tehran is liable to be struck by a catastrophic earthquake in the foreseeable future.

Iran has had numerous capitals during its history, including Isfahan, Qazvin, Shiraz, Mashhad and Hamedan. Since the Qajar king Agha Mohammad Khan declared it capital in 1795, Tehran has become the country’s political, social, economic and cultural center.

Its infrastructure has been left creaking by rapid population growth that has seen it become home to 12 million people, up from 250,000 at the start of the 20th century.

Plans for a new capital were first drawn up 20 years ago, but officials only gave them serious consideration after the 2003 earthquake that devastated the southeastern city of Bam and killed an estimated 40,000 people. Experts warn that Tehran sits on at least 100 faultlines and that many of its buildings would not survive a major quake.

Bahram Akasheh, dean of the faculty of basic sciences at Tehran Azad University, said the city had been chosen as capital “by mistake” and its northeastern suburbs were vulnerable to an earthquake measuring eight on the Richter scale.

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