A devastating earthquake in north India could claim several human lives and damage material wealth across the region, fear seismologists studying the Himalayas. According to The Hindu Businessline, the scientists have been fearing a huge earthquake along the 600-km stretch of the central parts of the Himalayan region for some time. However, they are not sure when it will happen. They are worried about the devastation it can cause on human lives and material wealth across North India.
The issue was discussed when top earth scientists and seismologists of India attended an international conference at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Mandi recently.
“There is a consensus among all seismology groups, including international ones studying the Himalayas, that a great earthquake is imminent. The studies have clearly indicated the strain that is building up and the earthquakes that have occurred in the recent past have not been enough to release this strain,” the newspaper quoted CP Rajendran, professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, Bengaluru, as saying.
“The earthquakes that happened in Nepal in 2015 or Uttarkashi (1991) or Chamoli (1999) were large ones, no doubt. But a big one hasn’t occurred for a very long time,” said Rajendran, one of the speakers at the IIT- Mandi conference.
“I believe we are entering a period of earthquake generation in that area. With the explosive increase in population and a disregard for safety, a relatively large earthquake can be quite disastrous for the region,” he said.
The April 18-20 International Workshop on Climate Change and Extreme Events in Himalayan Region, hosted by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Mandi, was aimed at understanding the effects of climate change, melting of glaciers, increased frequency of extreme events, atmospheric pollution, pollution due to crop residue burning in Himalayan region and applications of remote sensing.
Numerous research groups, including one at IIT Roorkee, are in the process of developing earthquake early warning systems which could give people up to a minute of warning before the quake.
However, such short-term predictions are not best way forward, said Dr Supriyo Mitra from Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Kolkata.
“I would prefer being a society that is prepared,” Mitra told PTI.
Even if seismologists are able to provide an early warning to enable people to safely vacate their buildings before an earthquake, our homes would still be destroyed, turning a whole society into refugees, he said.
“We have the expertise to know what the hazards are. Engineers can work out the vulnerability of the structures and tell you the mechanism by which they can be made resistant,” said Mitra, one of the speakers at the workshop.
Implementing these would reduce the risk to human lives and property in the event of a disaster.
“Science can tell you where an earthquake may strike, and with what magnitude, but ‘when’ is a bad question to ask,” Mitra said.
He added that earthquake predictions shift the onus of responsibility of disaster preparedness completely to scientists.
However, to ensure preparedness, the public needs to be involved in questioning whether their buildings are safe.
Participants at the workshop also raised questions on how socio-economically weaker sections would invest in building earthquake resistant buildings.
Dr Durgesh C Rai from IIT Kanpur said it is the right of every individual to have seismic safety, and the government has to ensure that.
“Seismic safety should not be an optional requirement,” Rai told PTI. While presenting his research, Rai focused on how publicly-funded government buildings in Himalayan states such as Sikkim and Manipur could not survive even low intensity earthquakes.
According to him, we continue to repeat the same mistakes time and again, and have not learnt any lessons from the failures of the past.
Giving the example of the 1993 earthquake that struck Latur, Maharashtra—killing over 9,000 people—Rai said government agencies and academicians were of the view that buildings which collapsed were non-engineered.
“So the deaths of people were linked to their poverty,” Rai said.
“In 2001, the Bhuj earthquake -- 120 multi-storey buildings collapsed in Ahmedabad—killed over 900. This was engineered construction. The investigations showed that every building code was flouted,” Rai said.
“Earthquakes need not be deadly or destructive if we use the right designs and material,” he said.
Rai said seismic safety should not be an optional feature that people have to ask for. Rather, all buildings should be built to be earthquake safe by default—much like medical instruments are sterilised before use, irrespective of whether a patient is rich or poor.
He pointed out that many older buildings in the Himalayan arc have survived earthquakes for decades, and these could serve as lessons for our future.
“Loss of life occurs due to building collapse and damage, we need to engineer structures with proper building codes,” said Ramesh P Singh, coordinator of the workshop, and visiting professor at IIT Mandi.
(With PTI inputs)