Science and Remedy of Earthquake Disasters

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Earthquakes occur at various depths, and those of shallower origin are considered more destructive, particularly when they hit an unprepared, and a populated region. A typical example to show such type of earthquake manifests on the Earth is the 2005 Muzafarabad earthquake. With a magnitude of about 7.6 on the Richter scale, it originated at a depth of about 26km, and thus created large scale devastation. This was largely because structures were not build to resist earthquake shaking. Nepal earthquake of April 2015 had a similar story. However, and luckily, the 2015 Afghanistan earthquake is reported to have originated at a depth of more than 200km below the surface, which should make it less destructive. However, the destruction it has caused suggests that we have simply not learnt any lessons from the previous experiences of Earthquakes. 
Earthquake Science of Jammu and Kashmir
Jammu and Kashmir lies on the west of the active plate boundary (major fault) which has been the cause of major earthquakes, including the recent Nepal earthquake. This boundary passes through Jammu city, however, no trace of this fault has been mapped on surface in this region, and thus it is assumed that it runs under as a blind structure (one which has not ruptured the surface). The latest research suggests that the possibility of a major earthquake on this fault could occur anytime because currently in Kashmir region the tectonic stress has been building up, and earthquake geologists are not very sure how long it has been accumulating. Another major fault runs under Reasi, and the latest research shows that major earthquakes might break this fault as well. A third major fault runs approximately through the middle of the Kashmir valley and it can also host a major earthquake. However, all the three active major faults that are mapped in Jammu and Kashmir are not well studied, and thus there are greater uncertainties in understanding their behaviour, and whether the regional stress will be released on the frontal fault or on the interior faults. But, in any case the major hazard cannot be overlooked. Thus, for a reliable seismic hazard and risk evaluation some detailed paleo-seismological studies are extremely necessary to determine whether all the accumulated stress has been released or not and to know how many faults or fault-segments have broken in the past.
Earthquake resistant structures needed to counter earthquake devastation
The earthquake science has greatly progressed overtime, and with new insights coupled with modern technologies, a comprehensive model can be developed. This may help us in developing and implementing new strategies to counter any earthquake threat in the near future. Even with so much research going on in the field, prediction of earthquake events has not been achieved as yet with any degree of certainty. Predicting an earthquake has failed because the science of earthquake is much complicated, and needs further understanding before it may finally become a possibility. For example, the recent knowledge of major earthquake in the Himalayas suggests that the earthquake generally did not follow a pattern but occurred randomly. This means that the concept of a rather regular return time between catastrophic earthquakes is probably not relevant for the Himalaya. Nonetheless, much progress has been made in understanding of the cause of earthquakes, and one must learn how to live with earthquakes without a successful prediction at sight. This could be achieved if one strictly abides by the strict seismic construction standards, careful geological evaluation of building sites, and awareness of the general masses. Such practices are followed in many developed nations, for example Japan has implemented and therefore achieved a major milestone in building earthquake resistant structures and a scientifically aware society. Unfortunately, a large number of people live in the developing world, where these techniques remain sadly out of reach because of the various limitations to access information, coupled with poverty, corruption, illiteracy and poor administration.
Politically stable and corruption free societies are needed
Past major disasters have indicated that political stability, good governance, corruption free and scientifically aware societies can greatly contribute in minimizing the natural or human disasters. And the destruction is always exponential in economically poor, and corrupt societies. It is thus impossible to fight disasters without putting an efficient mechanism in place to counter the above mentioned factors.
Earthquakes don’t follow political boundaries
The 2005 Muzafarabad earthquake shook many parts of the world, and in particular, India, China, Afghanistan, Nepal etc. Similarly during the recent Nepal, and Afghanistan earthquakes the shaking was felt across the political boundaries. And the effects were more pronounced on neighboring regions, clearly suggesting that to fight such disasters one must unite, and work together irrespective of the conflicts that they hamper countries in putting a united effort.
Most of the major faults zones run along, and across the political boundaries, and it is impossible to understand the behavior of faults without having a strong collaboration with various nations. Similar is the case with floods where rivers flow across political establishments. Thus to fight any natural disasters one has to first unite, and work as a team. I think nature wants us to unite, and natural disasters reminds us to actively engage in such commitments. Otherwise we shall be doomed.
Author is Assistant Professor in Structural Geology, University Brunei Darussalam. He can be reached at: afroz.shah@ubd.edu.bn

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