Unlearnt Lessons: On 8th October 2005 Earthquake

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On the 15th anniversary of the devastating earthquake of 2005, we need to acknowledge our under awareness and facilitate plans to stay alert, aware and prepared to avoid future loss of life and property in a place like Kashmir which is prone to earthquakes

THE recent cycle of earthquake occurrences in certain parts of Kashmir and Ladakh regions should seriously worry us: not only because it may be a precursor to a major earthquake but more on what would be the ground reality if a medium to large magnitude earthquake occurs tomorrow. Think about it. We are not prepared to handle any major earthquake hazard in the region, which is reflected by the ground realities where neither earthquake science education nor preparations are up to the mark. We have to take responsibility and worry about changing it for good.

The vast scale of devastation during the 2005 earthquake that struck Muzaffarabad Kashmir is still fresh in our memory. We lost more than 80000 people and billions worth of property. This was avoidable to a large extent, and that is reflected by the scale of devastation caused by the similar magnitude earthquake in some of the world’s well prepared nations. For example when the moment magnitude 7.0 earthquake occurred in Haiti in 2020 it devastated the country and resulted in an unfortunate loss of more than 85000 people (some estimates suggest the number could be 300,000). Contrary to this, when New Zealand, a relatively well equipped nation to deal with earthquake hazards, was also hit by the similar magnitude event (moment magnitude 7.1) there was no loss of life.

The stark difference in the scale of destruction caused by the similar magnitude earthquakes in two different geographic locations clearly suggests that poorly prepared nations will always suffer the most. Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world and it is also marred by high corruption rates and an unstable political landscape, and that has directly contributed to the noticeable and contrasting difference in devastation caused by a similar sized earthquake in New Zealand in 2010.

Haiti is comparable with the Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh regions because we too are enmeshed in our own political and social mess, which has penetrated in almost all spheres of life. The ground preparations to tackle earthquakes hazards are next to nil, and our political landscape only postpones every possibility of preparation.

Therefore, our current setting is a perfect setup to turn a hazard into a major disaster. This is not just about earthquake related hazards but floods, landslides and so on. It should worry us a lot, and we must not wait until we have no option than to mourn the incoming devastations. We have to learn from the past, and reflect on how to improve our ground realities.

The lessons from what went wrong during the 2005 devastation in our neighbourhood, clearly demonstrates that we have to work day and night in building the infrastructure, and in particular, the mind-set to win the battle with earthquakes.

We are awaiting major earthquakes in the region, and these can occur anytime, so we have no choice than to live with earthquake hazards.

The scientific reasoning behind the occurrence of earthquakes is simple and if people understand this simple reasoning they will start loving faults and earthquakes. We are part of the tectonic plates because we live on land that belongs to lithospheric plates.

Kashmir is sitting in the north of the major Himalayan faults, and the present day mega thrust plate boundary fault between India and Eurasian tectonic plates.  The plate convergence between these lithospheric plates has to be compensated by the building of strain in rocks, and that is what has been going on over the entire developmental history of the Himalayas.

The mountains and valleys that surround us are a direct outcome of the tectonic interaction between the plates, and this ought to continue in the future. Faults have developed our land, otherwise, it was an ocean in the geological past where ocean life was abundant. The limestone deposits that we have in Anantnag (Islamabad), Bandipora, and many other places in Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh regions are evidence of oceanic conditions in the past. The faults later uplifted the oceans and created the wonderful landscape that we call: the paradise on the earth.

Therefore, faults, folds and other geological structures are there for our comfort because it has created our land that we call home, otherwise, it would have been just an ocean.Therefore, tectonic plate movements are central to our existence on the planet Earth, and we must learn how to live with faults.

There is no way we can get rid of earthquakes, and we must not, because it is one of the smartest ways to release the energy from the Earth. Faults are efficient in doing it systematically. We therefore have to educate ourselves about the goodness of faulting and how faults are part of our life, and it is imperative to work on ground to make living with earthquakes a reality. This is achievable if we work on extensive education and outreach activities network and talk earthquake sciences with people at large. We also need to build earthquake resistant buildings and help other people in building such structures.

I think the occurrence of small magnitude earthquakes is a wakeup call to check on our ground preparedness to tackle a major hazard that may come anytime. So, the current tremors are helpers and informers to alert us to get ready for any eventuality. We must respond to it with an action oriented strategy if we wish to avert the ugly memories of the 2005 devastation that I have mentioned above.

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Dr Afroz Ahmad Shah

Author is Assistant Professor in Structural Geology, Physical & Geological Sciences at the Universiti Brunei Darussalam. He can be reached at: afroz.shah@ubd.edu.bn

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