Why J&K Requires An Earthquake Research Facility

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The article first appeared on 25th of May 2013 in these columns of the Kashmir Observer. We are reproducing it as the State Government is yet to act upon the suggestions forwarded by one of the best known Earth Science experts of the state. —Editor

THE science of earthquake investigations in the state of Jammu and Kashmir demand serious efforts from the science community, particularly, by the earth scientists, to answer the incoming challenges of earthquake disasters.  Since, we are facing continuous threats from the small magnitude earthquakes; we must understand that these do not occur without a scientifically significant reason. Therefore, it is required to unearth such observable reasons, but, to achieve such a goal we have to first evaluate the status of earthquake research in the state. Therefore, if we turn the pages of the scientific investigations done in the valley, we will know the gaps in the research and will accordingly plan our future strategy. There are a few publications which have identified active faults in the Kashmir Basin and one of these studies demonstrate that these faults are capable to host a Mw 7.6 earthquake, big enough to shake the entire valley. These are however, preliminary studies and thus through research is required to fully understand the behaviour of these active faults.

Earthquake researchers have learnt from the past experience that most of the faults behave differently and in a unique pattern, which is often characteristic of a particular fault, thus, each fault needs to be investigated in much more details. Kashmir Basin is very unique in its shape and the deformation pattern is also uniquely different from the frontal Himalayas, thus, serious efforts are required to investigate the active faults in the valley. This can be best achieved if people from the state itself are involved in these investigations. This will however, require a state of art earthquake research facility in the valley, which should be devoted to earthquakes, their causes, hazards and remedies. They could also facilitate some earthquake related workshops, which will guide people and will make them understand the cause of earthquakes and what are the easily available remedies to quickly counter any immediate threat.

Further, since we are completely black to the past earthquake information in the valley, therefore, we have to dig deep to search for the evidences preserved by the sediments and then translate that information into a reliable estimate to forecast the future earthquake potential along the mapped active faults. This is extremely important step towards the hazard mitigation. Again, this could only be achieved if comprehensive studies are undertaken and earthquake research is produced from the Kashmir valley itself. The ideal situation would be if Kashmiri researchers are actively involved in this and that could be made possible, if adequate research training is provided to the students through a research institute in the valley. The institute could recruit Ph.D students and Post-doctorates and rigorously educate them to facilitate an earthquake research awareness program in the Kashmir valley to counter the earthquake uncertainties.

It is important to recognize that whenever an earthquake occurs, the first thing government will do is to announce packages etc. For example,  today I read that the state cabinet which recently met under the Chairmanship of Chief Minister, has given nod to grant special package funds involving an amount of Rs. 607.77 crore for the rehabilitation of the affected people and for restoration of public infrastructure in Districts of Doda, Kishtwar and Ramban, which were devastated in the recent earthquake. The question, however, is, will it serve the purpose? My answer is NO, it will NOT. Unless the state is not equipped both in terms of understanding the earthquakes and building necessary earthquake resistant structures, such economic rehabilitation packages seem meaningless. As we know Kashmir Basin Fault has a potential to host much bigger earthquakes than the one that caused the recent devastation. Therefore, it is important to realise now, that we must work hard to act now.

I Would Recommend A Few Steps For A Safe Future:

1.      Opening of a well-equipped earthquake research centre in the valley

2.      Training engineers to build earthquake resistant structures

3.      Organizing workshops to propagate earthquake awareness among the public at large

4.      Imposing a strict building code, as is done in countries like Japan.

Dr. Afroz Ahmad Shah (Ph.D (Australia) is  Senior Lecturer | Department of Applied Geology, School of Engineering and Science, Curtin University, Sarawak Malaysia. 

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