Recurring quakes: Awareness must

The earthquake that hit Afghanistan and Pakistan on Monday is yet another reminder of the danger that lurks deep under the earth and can hit the people any time in the region. Over 300 lives have been lost and much property has been destroyed. India was spared any major damage but the tremors were felt in Delhi and some other parts of the country. Quakes, storms and other natural phenomena know no political boundaries and there is nothing that governments or other human agencies can do to prevent them or to mitigate their power. But they can cooperate and work together in the handling of the disaster where human considerations should get the better of political divisions and differences. So, Prime Minister Modi did well to call his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif and Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani to offer help. Such gestures have a value beyond common courtesies.

This week’s quake, which was 7.5 on the Richter scale, was of the same intensity as the devastating quake of 2005 in the same region which caused much more damage. The reason for the milder impact was that the epicentre was farther away from urban centres and deeper than in 2005. But it is only fortuitous that the damage was limited. The earthquake in Nepal in April caused enormous loss of lives and property. The series of earthquakes in the region in a short period should lead to greater vigil and adoption of effective measures to minimise the impact of future quakes. The entire north India is in a high-risk seismic zone. All cities from Srinagar to Guwahati, including Delhi, are prone to extreme seismic activity. Mumbai, Chennai and even the southernmost Kochi are vulnerable. But this has not been factored into town planning and construction methods and the attitudes of citizens.

It is estimated that 80 per cent of the buildings in the vulnerable areas have been built in violation of safety regulations, not only in terms of earthquake resistance but less hazardous natural occurrences too. Rules and regulations, which are themselves inadequate, are not followed in the construction of even government buildings, roads, bridges and barriers or check dams. Awareness is low among citizens also. Many people think that taking steps to minimise the damage is a waste of money. But experience in countries like Japan has shown that adoption of the right measures in town planning and architecture and greater awareness can lessen the damage to a great extent. Ways to cope with earthquakes should receive greater attention in the country.

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