Jammu Earthquakes

AFTER nine back-to-back temblors of magnitudes 4.1 and 3.2 hitting Jammu this week, experts have warned of a bigger earthquake in the region and asked people to take precautionary measures. A major earthquake, according to experts, is preceded by smaller ones. So, this should be a cause of concern for the people. More so, when Jammu and Kashmir is an earthquake-prone region falling in Seismic Zone-V.

In 2005, around 80,000 people were killed in the quake across the Kashmir divide with the disproportionate loss of more than 75000 lives in Pakistan Administered Kashmir and around 1400 on this side. Thousands of residential houses were toppled, and the public infrastructure damaged.

An institutional answer to a massive quake calls for an effective immediate response, and which sadly in our case is always missing. The reason is that our state has always been lax on disaster preparedness. Older a calamity, lesser the urge to prepare for its recurrence. For example, over the past decade, our building codes continue to remain lenient and our builders take short-cuts. Similarly, there hasn’t been any focus on the safety of our schools which are housed in buildings vulnerable to high intensity tremors. If government needed a reminder, the succession of quakes in Jammu division has handed it one. There is a critical need to enhance the level of our preparedness to face calamities of the egregious scale, like earthquakes and floods. We hope the government gets its act right this time.

Already, a study by a prominent US seismologist Roger Bilham has warned that Kashmir Valley is likely to be hit by an earthquake of largest ever magnitude. But the study has not specified any particular time-frame. In what can be an apocalyptic scenario, Bilham said the quake could trigger landslides that would dam the river Jhelum, He also urged India and Pakistan to develop a cooperative mechanism to deal with the aftermath of a mega-quake in the union territory. But ever since the 2005 earthquake which initially alerted the government and the people to build stronger, reasonably quake-resistant structures, the complacency seems to have again set in. The fresh quakes have thus come as an important reminder to us to become more mindful of our vulnerability to the natural disasters and take pro-active measures to lessen the damage should, God forbid, we experience another disaster. It is incumbent on the government not only to get its act together but also create public awareness to help people better prepare for a possible future calamity.

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