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Earthquake catastrophes: Are we prepared?

Published on 9th Nov, Edition 45, 2015


In the past decade, earthquakes were the deadliest disaster as 60 percent of deaths caused by such hazards. The quakes remain a serious threat for millions of people worldwide and eight of the most populous cities in the world are built on earthquake fault-lines, this was observed by Margareta Wahlstrom, first Special Representative of the Secretary-General of United Nations for Disaster Risk Reduction, stressing the importance of investing in disaster risk reduction. The most populous cities on fault lines are Mexico City, New York, Mumbai, Delhi, Shanghai, Kolkota and Jakarta.

In terms of human losses, Asia is the continent that has been struck again and again by disasters during the last decade, accounting for 85 percent of all fatalities. Ms Margareta Wahlstrom emphasized the significance of investing in disaster risk reduction. The figures release by CRED (Centre for Epidemiology of Disasters) states that in 4,000 disasters more than 780,000 people were killed over the past decade. These disasters affected more than 2 billion of the world and caused a minimum cost $960 billion. “The fortunate part is that earthquakes don’t happen very often but they are the deadliest of disasters. They take large numbers of people’s lives in a split second,” she said during a joint news conference in Geneva between the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) and the Centre for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED).

Ms. Wahlstrom stressed that disaster risk reduction is an indispensable investment for earthquake-prone cities and communities. “Seismic risk is a permanent risk and cannot be ignored. Earthquakes can happen anywhere at any time.”

Pakistan calamity

The earthquake in Pakistan occurs in the north and western section of the country along the boundary of the Indian tectonic plate with the Iranian and Afghan micro-plates. Four significant faults occur in and around Karachi and other parts of deltaic Indus and the southern coast of Makran. The first of these is known as the Allah Bund Fault. It passes through the coastal town of Shah Bunder, the area around Pakistan Steel Mills, and continues through the eastern part of Karachi ending near Cape Monz. An earthquake along this fault caused significant damage in the past.

The second fault lies in the Rann of Kutch near Sindh’s eastern border with India. The third is the Pubb fault, which ends into Arabian Sea near the Makran Coast. The fourth is situated in Dadu district on the northern boundary of Karachi. A large number of earthquakes have taken place on this fault.

On May 31, 1935 Quetta now the present capital of Balochistan was hit by a devastating earthquake. About 30,000 people were killed and a thousand more were injured. There was extensive damage to property and thousand of death in the villages between Quetta, Kalat and Mastung.

Moreover a destructive earthquake on October 8, 2005 hit Pakistan and parts of Afghanistan and India. This was the strongest earthquake to take place in this area during the past hundred years.

From this earthquake, the region of Pakistan was greatly affected by the devastating earthquake. The main city, Muzaffarabad was seriously affected with about half of the houses were completely destroyed. The various reports indicate that more than 74,000 were killed and more or less 50,000 were injured and thousand of homes were destroyed in the northern areas of Pakistan. About 3.5 million people were left homeless exposed to freezing temperature and heavy rain. Some 26 hospitals and 600 health units were destroyed. There were several deaths also in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. A multi 10-storied building (known as Margalla Tower) in Islamabad collapsed completely killing a large number of occupants.

Another intense earthquake on October 28 and 29, 2005 took place, but not more severe than the earthquake that occurred on October 8, 2005. This 6.4 magnitude earthquake on the Richter scale struck in the mountainous region north- northeast Quetta. In this region about 108,000 people were homeless and 30 villages were destroyed. Ziarat, the beautiful city of Balochistan famous for juniper forest and orchards filled with golden and green apples was also greatly affected by the earthquake. It destroyed the local apple industry, killed hundred of people and destroyed innumerable number of houses.

After thousands of people feared dead, the massive damage done to property and million of people has become homeless, and knowing very well that major fault along the offshore Makran coast (Balochistan and Sindh provinces) is the result of the active subduction zone where major earthquakes have occurred in the past.

Further, well known that Karachi the populous commercial capital of Pakistan lies to major fault lines, it is situated on or close to four faults. In this context have we taken any lesson or are well prepared for further catastrophe if Allah forbids.

High rise buildings in Karachi have been constructed without any regard to prevention of earthquake. Harmless earthquake tremors of 1.5 magnitudes or more on Richter scale have taken place in December 2009. There is an urgent need to take all necessary measures to construct earthquake proof buildings and houses in Karachi as well as in those places where frequently massive earthquakes have occurred. Readiness and stringent Seismic Building and houses Codes could have lessened the fatalities, injuries and destruction to the property.

Pakistan is situated at the north western side of the Indian subcontinent and overlaps both with the Indian and the Eurasian tectonic plates. Sindh and Punjab lie on the north-western corner of the Indian plate while Balochistan and most of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa lie within the Eurasian plate, which mainly comprises the Iranian plateau, some parts of the Middle East and Central Asia. Therefore, it has a history of earthquakes. The Northern Areas and Azad Kashmir lie mainly in Central Asia along the edge of the Indian plate and hence are prone to violent earthquakes where the two tectonic plates collide.


Recent quake in Pakistan

A powerful earthquake has struck in northern Afghanistan and has been felt in a large area from northern India to Pakistan with scores of people killed across the region. This quake on October 226, 2015 has hit various areas of Pakistan. Tremors were felt in Lahore, Islamabad, Faisalabad, Multan, Chitral, Mardan and nearby areas. The US Geological Survey put the epicentre of this quake near Jarm in Afghanistan’s northeast, 250km from the capital Kabul and at a depth of 213km.

Earthquake with a magnitude of 7.5 on the Richter scale according to the US Geological Survey with the Pakistan Metrological Office giving its severity at 8.1 spread a wave of terror throughout the country. While the deviation in the magnitude of the earthquake is significant yet it may be recalled that the 2005 earthquake was measured at 7.6 on the Richter scale by the US Geological Survey, 7.5 by Pakistan’s Met Office and 7.8 by the Japan Metrological Survey with the final magnitude given at 7.7.

Comparisons between the 2005 and the recent earthquake are being made and the question is whether any lessons were learned from the 2005 earthquake that may account for considerably lower fatalities and destruction today. Analysts point out that given that large parts of the country are on a fault line it is unfortunate that appropriate measures identified in 2005 were not enforced especially with respect to the building codes that are required to withstand tremors.

Building codes

In United States particularly the government has laid certain building codes in earthquake susceptible states. New buildings constructed have especial required designs to resist earthquake. Older buildings and houses that are not up to code are required to alter to increase their resistance. This implies not only on old buildings or houses but also in elevated free ways and bridges. The earthquake modification techniques and up dated buildings codes are designed to stop from at least complete annihilation of buildings for earthquake of no greater than 8.5 magnitude on the Richter Scale.

The Government of Pakistan in all its earnestness is requested to treat all its population and property as its valuable asset. It must like United States prepare developed programs of public preparedness and apply modern anti seismic building codes and construction standard from total destruction of buildings and houses and mitigating the precious life and injury of human being.

Further the Government publish earthquake preparedness booklet and distribute far and wide. Also, all occupants of houses and buildings must be encouraged by government to have earthquake kits for at least five days as earthquake don’t happened any often but when happen they are the deadliest and take numbers of lives in second.

What to speak of devastating earthquake taking place in Pakistan, but latest massive earthquake took place in Haiti on January 12, 2009, about 10 miles of south west of Port-au- Prince, the country’s capital. This earthquake was the worst in the region in more than 200 years. According to the preliminary estimates about 200,000 were feared dead in the rubble of government buildings, foreign aid offices, schools, shanty towns and hospitals. According to the Red Cross International about 3 million were affected by the earthquake. Haiti was still recovering the devastating 2008 hurricane occurred when this earthquake occurred. It must be remembered that the Caribbean is not considered a seismic danger zone, but earthquake has struck in the past.


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