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.