Today is the first anniversary of the earthquake in Nepal that killed 9,000 people. The temblor was felt across many parts of India, killing 102 people and damaging about 13,000 houses, serving us a chilling reminder that natural calamities don’t honour political boundaries.
This means that nations must continuously improve channels of information-sharing to try and limit damage, and work closely to improve the post-event recovery and rehabilitation of victims. The quake also underlined once again that India must take express measures to minimise the number of quake-related deaths and injuries in the event of a big Himalayan earthquake that scientists say is long overdue.
As many as 392 earthquakes of magnitude greater than 3.0 were located in and around India in 2015, according to a statement given by the Centre on December 2 in Parliament. In March, the government added 81 new cities and towns to a list of urban areas vulnerable to earthquakes of “very severe intensity”.
While earthquakes are always blamed for human deaths and injuries, the real culprits are the poorly constructed buildings that collapse and kill people. A survey by the National Disaster Management Authority found that in the past 25 years, more than 25,000 human fatalities were caused by the collapse of buildings during earthquakes.
During the 2001 Bhuj earthquake, reinforced concrete buildings collapsed during a temblor of 6-magnitude, when a well-designed reinforced concrete building is expected to withstand an intensity up to 7.5. Today, India has a satisfactory range of seismic specifications covering a variety of structures, ranging from mud or low-strength masonry houses to modern buildings. But small and medium developers don’t adhere to them because they want to cut costs.
Moreover, while new building codes cover the new buildings, there is also an urgent a need to retrofit existing buildings to make them safer. A related problem is the availability of engineers qualified to handle earthquake-resistant constructions. This is because such construction is not taught at the undergraduate level in engineering courses but only in the postgraduate syllabus. In the last one year, there have been some efforts to train communities on how to tackle earthquakes, but the discussion on safer buildings now needs a real impetus.