Earthquake preparedness over knee-jerk reaction

Witoubou Newmai

Issues revolve around the seismic safety failed to attract much attention in our region as compared to “other security issues in the wider security concept”.

This editorial is broaching the issue following reports that “a mega earthquake of magnitude 8.5 or more is long overdue in the Himalayan region.” There have been these “long overdue mega earthquake” reports for quite some time now, but the people and the concerned authorities do not venture further than just limiting themselves to reading the reports. There can be so many reasons for this attitude towards the reports. One reason can also be due to the sense of helplessness about such a calamity.

However, it is also no more an exaggeration to say that knee-jerk response has become part of our culture today. We may call it, in other words, measures after lived experience. In fact, such measures are nothing but doing things out of desperation. But it is said that taking decision out of desperation portrays of what the society has become of.

Also meanwhile in our society, the concerned authorities engage on vague suggestions and proposals such as “to have an earthquake resilient towns and cities”, but never coming to work out about precise visions. When we are as far as this to the reality we continue to run the risk of “burying our heads in the sand.” In doing so, the concerned authorities are only trivialising the issue of great importance.

Two days ago, the media had reported widely quoting scientists that we are “far from being prepared for such an eventuality (the long overdue mega earthquake) with no strategy to minimise loss of life and property”. From April 18 to 20, experts had gathered to the “International Workshop on Climate Change and Extreme Events in Himalayan Region” at Mandi in Himachal Pradesh. During the event, “scientists from various fields of expertise concurred that an earthquake of the magnitude of 8.5 or more is likely to rock the Himalayan region”.

One important note mentioned by Dr Supriyo Mitra from Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Kolkata, during the workshop needs proper introspection: “Science can tell you where an earthquake may strike, and with what magnitude, but ‘when’ is a bad question to ask.” Mitra then added, “I would prefer being a society that is prepared.”

Another important thought was given by Dr Durgesh C Rai from IIT, Kanpur, who opined that, “Earthquakes need not be deadly or destructive if we use the right designs and materials.” Also participating in the workshop, Professor Ramesh P Singh of IIT, Mandi, who said, “Loss of life occurs due to building collapse and damage, we need to engineer structures with proper building codes.”

Given the above suggestions and thoughts of the experts, it is not out of the reach of the concerned authorities to have visions towards addressing the issue. However, at the moment, it appears that the syndrome of knee-jerk reaction is still overwhelming the concerned authorities, waiting for things to push us to desperation or forlorn state to have a post-incident decision.