A grim reminder

If the warnings of a massive earthquake are coming thick and fast, it is relieving to hear that a lot is being done in terms of preparedness in the country.

Quite often, we talk about how prepared we are if an earthquake struck the region. Because earthquakes cover hundreds of kilometres, we feel the shake, physically and mentally. We talk fervently about it, the media covers it and when the tremors subside, everything is forgotten.

If the April 25 earthquake that damaged thousands of homes and killed thousands of people came as a wake up call, the recent one nearer to Bhutan, in Manipur is fresh in our minds. It is worrying that experts are warning of a bigger catastrophe in the Himalayan region. Our own experts have already warned, years ago, of an earthquake with a magnitude of 8 or greater likely to rock the region.

This is backed with years of studies and research. Put simply, the ground under us is not stable and this might trigger a massive earthquake. Unfortunately we cannot predict earthquakes. What we can do is be prepared to minimize damage to property and loss of lives.

Earthquake is one natural disaster that we are most prone to and exposed to for major damages and loss. Soon after the devastating Nepal earthquake, several committees were formed and we are taking the issue seriously. Several heads of agencies are meeting frequently to discuss strategies and work on preparedness.

The department of disaster management, the lead agency, is in the thick of preparing and believes we are better prepared now. That is yet to be tested. However, we are moving in the right direction and more emphasis should be given to the department even when we are not reminded by an earthquake somewhere near us.

As a poor country situated on a fragile mountain system, the damage from an earthquake can be devastating. That’s is why our communication system should be better, our search and rescue should be better trained and organized. That is why we should have better contingency plans.

There are so many challenges if we are hit. We don’t even have the infrastructure to receive help if it is on offer. Relief aid would take days to reach the affected areas with just one airport and no seaport. Our communications system is prone to clogging. It is overwhelmed when most needed. We know by experience.

Communication is key during disasters. Our media is not trained to cover natural disaster. It is not only reporting how many were killed or injured. They can play constructive roles. The preparedness plan we have today is not put to test and we don’t know how effective it will be.

For the long term, there are many things to be done. One is emphasizing on building codes. Experts in India have said that the North East region should have different building codes from that of the rest of India. We fall in the same region and we should look into ours too.

Because we are not hit hard, we compromise on our construction or codes. If it can save a few thousands of Ngultrums, we are ready to compromise on codes or quality. Congested and unprepared urban places are the hardest hit during earthquakes. Nothing is worth the savings if lives are lost.

1 reply
  1. irfan
    irfan says:

    We all hear it about receding ground water levels in our quickly developing cities. If wet soil got harder before, now it’s getting drier and drier. That’s when we consider the urban developments of the plains. As we move to the valleys and mountains; it’s about the rocks beneath with the loose ends. So, civil engineering challenges are in plenty to deal with a future earthquake whenever it happens. But we get the readings only when it happens. It’s like waiting for the player in front to roll his dices in a table top game.

    It’s not that nothing has been done on ensuring better building codes when it comes to dealing with earthquakes. The foundations on which our buildings stand are getting stronger with every new set of codes. We are always using more steels to strengthen our new buildings. The calculations for force distributions has been made optimised with new technologies. And yet, shaking or vibrations in our buildings are only increasing even though the readings on earthquake show the same scale. With our cities getting congested and buildings getting taller; the lateral forces acting on one such structure relative to other taller structures in the vicinity during an earthquake are probably getting researched upon now.

    Even if an earthquake can be predicted well in advance; where do we expect an entire city and millions of population to assemble for safety. On other occasions, it’s probably a case of less than a minute to escape or die. It remains a bit scary of an idea. At times, I do feel a lot more secure in a safe car as these modern day vehicles are getting all the safety features and build quality to ensure safety during an accident. But I can’t have the car parked inside an apartment at the top floor of a building and remain inside it hoping that it will provide me safety even during an earthquake when that same building collapses. Our fears can easily make us think crazy. But we don’t want our construction or building safety codes to become another set of politicised and opportunistic issues. And we can’t always leave it for the credited worth of the patent writers as we know that an earthquake or any other natural disasters can strike us on any day in any part of the world.

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