Lessons For Kashmir In Indonesian Tsunami

How unfortunate is the condition when we are unable to save life or property during a devastating event like an earthquake. What to do? Should we just stop and wait to witness how a hazard unfolds into a disaster that destroys and completely erases our love, memory, relation and property, or should we work towards a solution? The second choice is what we all usually aim at. And in reality we do aim to perform better on this tiny planet that we call home yet we tangled in so many problems that we realise this danger only once it strikes us.

The devastation caused by the Mw 7.5 earthquake and the associated tsunami that struck Minahasa, Sulawesi, Indonesia on 28th September 2018 again proves that although the scientific wisdom on earthquake occurrences has greatly progressed with time, yet we are unable to save people. Interestingly, the first major earthquake that has principally laid the foundation of the modern seismology is the one that struck Lisbon on the 1stNovember, 1775 when people were celebrating the All Saint’s Day, and most of the 250,000 inhabitants were in Churches. The buildings were shaken violently and collapsed on people. It was followed by a tsunami, which drowned people, mostly those who rushed to safety from the collapsing buildings. The incidents of fire were also reported. This memory of devastation in which about one quarter of Lisbon’s population vanished still haunts European psyche. 

If we consider Lisbon quake as the starting point of earthquake research then we have spent ~243 years to understand the earthquakes and yet we remain unable to forewarn and protect life. So, how is our knowledge about earthquake science helping and to save life on ground. The failure to save people during earthquakes, particularly in regions which we know are highly prone to such disasters, simply means we are largely ignorant of the reality beneath our ground.


The cold attitude of scientific and administrative community to come up with a robust strategy to help people on ground is a kind reminder that we have not achieved much in securing life and property on the planet. And this is no good news. We are guilty of spending most of our time in the service of science and scientific publications and little on how that science is translated into action on ground. 

The anatomy of the recent earthquake in Indonesia clearly shows our failure and yet again. The earthquake has ruptured a previously mapped (I repeat a previously mapped) active left-lateral strike-slip fault system, known as the Polu-Koro fault, at a shallower depth of 10 km. This means the scientific wisdom about the existence of the active fault system was known to us yet instead of using of all the scientific information to build earthquake resistant structures we allowed people to build houses on the active fault system, and without taking into consideration the much needed precautionary measures. 
The questions remains why such practices are allowed by the government, and what is role of scientific and administrative community in this? Isn’t it suicidal to allow people to settle on shaky grounds, which we know will be destroyed in future? Will we allow our children to play with fire, then why are we callous and cold towards death and destruction.

No doubt earthquake problems are multi-faceted, and are greatly influenced by the scientific, political, economic, social and educational developments in a society, however, learning and understanding of the science since ~243 years ought to be put into action. Therefore, scientific community must engage in transposing of the scientific information into public domain.

Yes, the research publications are important but what is the purpose of just compiling various scientific findings and remaining grossly unaware of how those important findings are helping people on ground. Administration must work with a competent scientific team to strategize the implementation of the various recommendation and actions. 

Since Jammu and Kashmir sits on a number of active fault systems therefore such steps are not only important but vital for the existence of life on this shaky ground. The lack of sincerity, action, and attitude towards the reduction of earthquake, landslide, and flood disasters is going to cost us dearly. This intrinsic coldness in our outlook ought to change, and it is time to change. Earthquakes can occur any moment and this stark reality must shake us out of slumber.  So, please take this advice seriously, and work on how to build an earthquake resistant buildings.



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