Over 1,000 people lost their lives in the twin quake sequence of magnitude 6.3 that struck the war-torn nation of Afghanistan on October 7, 2023, and the death toll is expected to rise. Such a small-intensity quake will generally cause no harm to a country prepared to handle earthquake hazards, signifying that ordinary risks turn into disasters because of unpreparedness, which is linked to the overall political, administrative, and economic stability of a nation. Similar devastation was witnessed on June 21st, when a magnitude 5.9 earthquake struck the border region of Afghanistan, highlighting the dire consequences of unpreparedness made worse by the many decades of the protracted political conflict. That is why a relatively small magnitude earthquake at a shallow depth of 10 km posed a significant threat to a nation grappling with political turmoil and economic crisis, to name a few. These tragic events serve as reminders of the importance of disaster preparedness, not only for Afghanistan but also for regions like Kashmir, which share similar seismic and geopolitical risks.
Afghanistan’s tumultuous political history has left it ill-equipped to handle medium to large earthquakes and other hazards, which means any ordinary earthquake risk will have the potential to turn monstrous. In contrast, nations like New Zealand and Japan, with robust disaster mitigation measures, would likely experience minimal damage and casualties from a similar earthquake. It is imperative to acknowledge that the devastation in Afghanistan is, in many ways, a human-made disaster born out of neglect and lack of planning linked to geopolitical and economic stability, which demands international attention to save lives in the future quakes, expected in the region.
I and many other earthquake scientists have repeatedly warned that the earthquake threat is looming over South and Southeast Asia, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Indonesia, due to the tectonic interaction between the Indian and Eurasian plates. Tectonic plates, unlike political boundaries, cross over the nations, and South and SE Asian regions are connected by tectonic plate boundaries, which are the regions that cause damaging earthquakes. It means that tectonic boundaries can cause an earthquake in one nation, and the damage can spread to other neighbouring countries because of the linkage and proximity of earthquake-causing faults. India’s northward journey over the past 50 million years culminated in its collision with the Eurasian plate, giving rise to the breathtaking mountain ranges, valleys, and rivers that define the region’s landscape and zones of earthquakes, which includes the area of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.
Kashmir’s history is marked by numerous devastating earthquakes, leaving their imprints in the sediment and rocks of the valley. Earthquake hazards are intrinsic to the region’s geological and tectonic architecture, which, over the past centuries, have caused damaging earthquakes. The threat of the next earthquake of significant intensity to strike Kashmir is real. It is based on the evidence preserved in sediments, rocks etc., which links the earthquake hazards to the continuous push of the Indian plate under the Eurasian, which is building strain in rocks only to get released in a major earthquake(s). The timing of when that will happen is not known because earthquakes remain unpredictable for obvious scientific reasons. Anyone who tries to offer earthquake predictions makes up false stories; there is no science to such tales. Do not listen to such people who are relying on pseudoscience.
The simple earthquake safety procedure is to build earthquake-resistant buildings, which can save lives. I know it is not a culture to do that in Kashmir, and I have no answer why people have chosen to ignore our repeated earthquake hazard warnings, which can come true anytime. We wish that never comes true, but the reality remains it has all the reasons to revisit Kashmir and other parts of the region. When we are ill, we rush to the doctor for a cure, but when our buildings are prone and vulnerable to earthquake risks, we do not run to the earthquake-building experts to save our buildings, lives and assets; oddly though.
The recent earthquake disaster in our neighbourhood region of Afghanistan and also in Morocco should alert us of our area, which is tectonically much more dangerous than those two countries. The responsibility is on us and the administrative authorities to impose strict seismic safety building regulations codes to avoid forecasted earthquake hazards transforming into major disasters. The existing buildings and other structures must be checked for seismic vulnerability to improve the overall safety of structures to withstand earthquake shaking, liquefaction, and other related primary and secondary consequences of quakes. There is no time to waste; waiting means less preparation time to avoid forecasted disasters.
Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
- The author is a National Geographic Explorer and Sr. Assistant Professor, Structural Geology. Programme Leader Geosciences at the Department of Geosciences, Faculty of Science, Universiti Brunei Darussalam
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