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Earthquake Preparation

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Tremors of the earthquake that hit Afghanistan and Pakistan on Tuesday night were felt across many parts of North India, including Uttarakhand. They came as a reminder that this particular catastrophe can strike at any time, given the constant stress faced by the tectonic plates in the region. According to one report, a major earthquake occurs on an average every eleven years in the Himalayan region. Considering the increasing population in congested urban areas, it has long been felt that appropriate measures should be taken so that there is as little loss of life as possible when an earthquake does occur.

Japan traditionally has been quake prone through history and over time developed many ways of protecting its population. As the saying goes, ‘earthquakes don’t kill people, buildings do’. In other words, the problem has engineering solutions that can be implemented at many levels, from a single storey house to multi-storey buildings. The Uttarkashi and Chamoli earthquakes took place in recent memory and did lead to necessary change in regulations when it comes to constructing new buildings in Uttarakhand. However, it has more or less been left at that and the authorities, as well as the public, have become quite lax in ensuring that the pursuit of safety is not compromised.

There still remain numerous constructions that are unsafe from this point of view. Old buildings, shanties in slums, schools and other utility constructions have neither been rebuilt nor retrofitted to withstand quakes. The primary reason for this, of course, is lack of the necessary funds. This does not mean, however, that solutions do not exist. There are many inexpensive engineering techniques to make buildings considerably safer that can be introduced – all that is required is the incentive to get it done.

An important part of this is awareness generation. People, particularly school-children, have to be regularly reminded of safety measures to be taken in the case of a quake. This will open the minds of the public to adopting the reinforcement measures at every level and seeking out the innovative ways of doing this. Government should prepare packages for every kind of population suited to their environment. It has been reported, for instance, that the prefabricated houses, which are most suitable to living in the mountains, being provided to the Joshimath land subsidence affected are being rejected by the beneficiaries. This is because they still believe the brick and concrete replicates of housing in the plains are what they need. It is changing this mindset that is imperative if the other measures are to be taken. The government should get down to it as soon as possible.