There is a consensus among scientists that a high-intensity earthquake is unavoidable in Kashmir. Scientists are not sure when it can strike, but it can definitely strike anytime in future. As part of preparations, scientists say that a building audit needs to be carried out to examine whether buildings and other structures in Kashmir can withstand high-intensity earthquakes or not? Common perception among experts is that standard earthquake resistant building codes are not being practiced in the region and that all structures that have been constructed so far need retrofitting to avoid destruction in the near future. In 2011, US geologist Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado revealed that Kashmir could be hit by a quake with a magnitude of up to 9 on the Richter scale. Bilham advised planning for the “worst case.
In this backdrop, Kashmir Observers contributing editor, Athar Parvaiz, did an email interview with Dr. Afroz Ahmad Shah (AAS), a Geologist at Physical & Geological Sciences (Universiti Brunei Darussalam) to know his expert views on these earthquake warnings and his thoughts on the preparations and the disagreements he has shown recently with some co-scientists in the field. Here are the excerpts:
Q. As a Geo scientist, what is your take on recent warnings from geologists about the possibility of a high-intensity earthquake in Kashmir?
AAS: The earthquake warning in Jammu and Kashmir is real, and there is potential for an earthquake with a magnitude of 8 and above to occur in this region. However, we are not sure when, and which portion of the active fault systems will host such an event. This requires more work on ground, which is largely missing.
Q. Brief us about the reviews (you have made) of journal articles/papers predicting or analyzing earthquake threats about Kashmir?
AAS: I have been working on mapping of unknown active faults in South and Southeast Asia, and some of this work has been published. My research work on Jammu and Kashmir has identified new active faults in the region, and I feel that there are more faults to be uncovered in the near future.
One active fault system cuts through the Kashmir valley, and I have named it as the Kashmir basin fault. The details about this fault system are not known yet, and therefore we are unable to precisely tell the entire story that this fault has to offer. It needs extensive fieldwork in Kashmir region, and trenching to date the past earthquake on this fault system.
Another fault cuts through the Riasi region, known as Raisi fault, and has the potential to host a medium to large magnitude earthquake. Some details about this fault are known, but more work is needed to fully comprehend its history and future.
And the Main Frontal Thrust fault, is one of the major fault systems onto which a number of damaging earthquakes have occurred in the past, and the previous research work has shown that this fault in Kashmir is ripe for a major earthquake. And most of the reports, including the one published recently in local newspapers, talk about this fault system.
Taken together there are many active fault systems in Jammu and Kashmir region, and I personally feel that these faults work as a family unit. In other words the faults are linked, and connected to each other, and the one onto which most of these faults ride is the Main Frontal Thrust fault system. Therefore, if one gets activated there are chances other may follow. And we ought to produce data on these faults to map and understand the history and future of these faults.
I have reviewed some of the works on the earthquake and tectonics of the Jammu and Kashmir region, and most of that is published and is available here.
Q. How do other Geo scientists, who have published research on earthquake hazards in Kashmir, perceive or judge your work?
AAS: Working with some humans can be a major challenge! And this is mainly because of the ego coupled with misunderstanding that often complicates a good relationship. I have gone through this stage, and I feel there are some scientists in Kashmir who have completely mistaken my criticism on their research work as a personal attack or some kind of an enmity. I would kindly request such people that there is nothing wrong in criticism as it helps you to grow. We all make mistakes; that is life. But unfortunately very few people realize this and feel ashamed to accept past mistakes, which I feel is fuelled by ego.
And as a scientist I would say that any sincere scientist would not work just to become famous. I sincerely feel that to be famous is not a set destination of a scientist but to work hard with dedication, sincerely and will. And often such an exercise brings fame. We work with a motivation to help people and discover new things that would improve life on this planet; and explore knowledge simultaneously to understand the world beyond our home.
Q. Have you published any peer-reviewed paper/article contesting the research-finding/theories of other scientists on earthquake threats about Kashmir?
AAS: I have published works on Jammu and Kashmir where I do contest some of the works that have been published before. This practice is not new to science; this is how science grows. We compliment, contradict and refute and one another; that is the life of a researcher. I have my own understanding on the earthquake hazards in Jammu and Kashmir but largely we all agree that major earthquake threat in the region is unavoidable. And it is very important for us to realize that people are not taking these warnings seriously; there is a huge gap that ought to be filled. We all have to work on ground and make sure that buildings are resistant to withstand earthquake shaking, and impact of potential liquefaction that can hugely damage infrastructure in the region.
Q. If you have carried out any research yourself, please share.
AAS: As I said earlier, I have published many papers on Jammu and Kashmir region, and most of these papers are available here. We are working to understand this region better and I feel there is an immediate need for Jammu and Kashmir state government to comprehensively involve in this venture and establish a world-class earthquake research and education facility in Kashmir. We should train, educate, engage, and recruit locals to build the sense of security in the region. This is achievable, provided we work towards it.
Q. Do you think, Kashmir is prepared for a high-intensity earthquake? Please explain.
AAS: Absolutely not. We are not following any standard earthquake resistant building codes to build structures (like bridges, buildings etc.) in the region. You can consult the concerned engineers and get more information on it. As per I know locals do not follow any such regulation. And all structures that have been constructed so far need retrofitting to avoid destruction in the near future. This require will. And I would suggest that engineers in consultation with geologists must help locals in this. We can build a team of dedicated people to achieve this. Nothing is impossible if there is will, and sincerity to help and engage with people.
Q. What is your advice/suggestions to the government and people of our region given that this region is the earthquake sensitive zone?
AAS: I have offered solutions, and suggestions above, and I would repeat it here that the first priority is to educate, engage, and train local people about the earthquake and flood hazards.
The good thing about Jammu and Kashmir region is that people still practice the tradition of buildings their own houses, shops etc. Therefore, it is easy to train local people who build our houses and educate them what is needed to make an earthquake resistant building.
Government can impose strict building codes, I am not aware if we have one, to avoid the potential earthquake disasters in future.
Large scale campaign is needed to enhance the sense of earthquake science education in the region.
People should first realize the problem and then they will possibly act. I feel people in our state are yet to realize the potential earthquake danger in the region, and that is not a good news.
In one of our recent papers we have realized this:
Our fieldwork clearly shows that Kashmir conflict, which is more than 71 years old political problem, has a negative impact on the mindset of people because they take earthquake and flood hazards as of secondary importance than the resolution of the political issue. Therefore, we conclude that scientific work related to hazards is highly required to educate local people by organizing a series of workshops, training sessions, course modules, international conferences, public talks, together with the dissemination of awareness about adopting earthquake resistant construction model. However, such efforts will only be effective on the ground if the political problem is resolved. Hence India and Pakistan ought to sit on the table and address the long-standing Kashmir problem for the safety and security of everyone in the region.