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Nepal needs to fear quake, not tsunami

As a landlocked country, Nepal doesn't have to fear a tsunami wreaking havoc like in Japan. That doesn't mean it's a safe place.

world Updated: Mar 14, 2011 00:20 IST
Utpal Parashar

As a landlocked country, Nepal doesn't have to fear a tsunami wreaking havoc like in Japan. That doesn't mean it's a safe place.

Images of destruction from the Land of the Rising Sun, made most Nepalis realize how vulnerable they are to a major earthquake. Since the country lies in a highly seismic zone, the threat is very real.

National Society for Earthquake Technology says that Nepal can expect two earthquakes of magnitude 7.5-8 on the Richter scale every 40 years and one of 8 plus on the same scale once every 80 years.

The last great quake of magnitude 8.3 struck in 1934. Seismologists say the next BIG ONE is due anytime.

If such a quake takes place, the amount of devastation could be mindboggling. Since 1934, Nepal's population has zoomed, but planned urban development and construction practices haven't seen similar rise.

The Kathmandu Valley where buildings are mushrooming in every available plot of land could witness the worst damage. Side-effects of a major quake like floods, landslides, fires and epidemics, would be disastrous for the shaky economy of underprepared Nepal.

Conservative estimates say the last big earthquake claimed over 8500 lives and partially or completely damaged nearly 200,000 houses. It's difficult to imagine what the figures could be the next time around.

For a country where the first recorded earthquake took place over 750 years ago in 1255 AD and claimed life of the king of Kathmandu valley, Nepal's disaster preparedness is less than two decades old.

Over the past years programmes have been launched to improve building codes and raise awareness. But implementation and preparedness needed for a big quake leaves a lot to be desired.

Interestingly, Nepal and the Himalayas were formed over 60 million years ago as result of a major quake due to merging of the Eurasian and Indo-Australian plates.

Another big quake could flatten it beyond recognition. Japan was prepared, Nepal is not.