A recent study published in Nature Geosciences shows that a major fault runs below Bangladesh, and could host a mega earthquake as high as 8 or above in magnitude. The publishers of the study have made it clear that the timing of such an earthquake remains unknown but the risk of a major disaster cannot be overlooked. The study does not come as a surprise because previous geological studies have clearly shown that a huge fault zone (called as mega thrusts) occurs in the region that runs over thousands of kilometres, and passes through a number of countries.
On 26 December 2004, approximately a 1600 km long portion of the mega-fault ruptured, and caused an earthquake which was 9.2 in magnitude. This was followed by the highly destructive Indian-ocean tsunami. This mega thrust runs south from Bangladesh, curving around the western and southern flanks of Sumatra, Java, Bali and eastern Indonesia to north-western Australia, which stretches to a distance of about 5,500 km. Similarly there are examples of mega thrusts offshore of the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan and south eastern China. These mega thrusts also exist on land and the biggest one traverses through Pakistan, India and Nepal, covering a distance of 2,500 km along the southern side of the Himalayan mountain range. This particular mega thrust was responsible for the recent Nepal earthquake and also a number of other destructive earthquakes in the past.
The same mega thrust also runs under Jammu and Kashmir but where exactly the fault line passes through has not been mapped yet. The fault is mapped as a blind structure i.e. a fault that doesnt rupture the Earths surface. The latest earthquake research in Jammu and Kashmir has suggested that a major earthquake on the un-ruptured portion of the fault could occur anytime because currently the tectonic stress has been building up. However, earthquake geologists are not very sure about how long the stress has been accumulating or how and when it will be released.
To the north of this fault lies another fault that runs under Reasi. This fault too is capable of causing a major earthquake and can rupture anytime. A third major fault runs approximately through the centre of the Kashmir valley. This fault is presently active and can result in an earthquake of significant magnitude. However, previous studies have shown that these three active faults require to be studied in much more detail as most of the area they occupy is yet to be explored. Because of this 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. However, most of the studies emphasise that the frontal portions are likely to be hit first. With all these uncertainties in place, Jammu and Kashmir remains a major earthquake hazard.
The Government of Jammu and Kashmir needs to invest in improving our understanding of the earthquake science in the region, and at the same time, serious mitigation plans for any future risk need to be implemented. We ought to start now before it is too late. Establishing a research institute dedicated to earthquake and flood hazard studies can be a major step in improving our understanding of the hazards prone in the region. Such an institute will help local students to work and produce data in the state itself and this data can then be used by the concerned authorities for planning and taking mitigation measures. Such a trained population of students, and researchers can be mobilised throughout the state to propagate the earth science education and research. Such an institute will also train, and produce civil engineering researchers, and students directly involved in improving our understanding of coping up with earthquake and flood hazards. It will particularly help us in building earthquake and flood resistant structures which will in turn minimise the damage and loss of life.
There is no use denying the inevitable. Jammu and Kashmir remains a high risk earthquake zone and the quicker we understand this, the better we can prepare for the impending disaster. Prevention is always better than cure. Our administrators need to wake up from their deep slumber and develop a disaster management plan. People need to be trained in how to handle such a major earthquake, if and when it occurs because chance always favours the prepared.
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