Published: Friday 30 April 1999

Earthquake warning

His excellency Dr B Kratochvil met me this morning and had a long conversation. He had been to Simla recently and is full of admiration for the natural beauty and scenery of the place. But while admiring all this, he said he had felt that the big river projects would involve accumulation of immense quantities of water and he was wondering whether the Himalayan hills would be able to stand the pressure of this water as he felt they were porous and might allow water to seep through. He also mentioned that it was the view of geologists that the Himalaya were the youngest of the big mountain ranges as a result of pressure from the north, from the Siberian side in the geological ages. Central India was at that time an island and sea intervened, and the gradual sea movement in the ages and consequent pressure from the north threw up the Himalaya. All these thoughts had come to him as he himself had been considering the question of agricultural improvement of India which depended upon the facilities that would be provided for irrigation.

I told him that I had also heard about the theory of geologists and I mentioned to him that we have had many big earthquakes in the Himalayan and sub-Himalayan regions, the most notable among them in recent times being the Bihar earthquake. I also told him that at the time of the earthquake geologists had discovered that there was a certain periodicity so far as Bihar was concerned in the matter of earthquakes as in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries severe earthquakes had devastated that area within the thirties of these centuries. I also mentioned to him that the problem about the nature and the capacity of the Himalayan hills to withstand the pressure of accumulated water had not escaped attention, and was as a matter of fact being investigated by engineers in connection with the Kosi Dam which is under investigation at present. He said that he had met Mr Munshi and his idea was, with which I agreed, that while these big projects might take time, small projects like installation of tubewell pumps on a cooperative basis in villages where individuals could not afford them, could be very helpful and also might create a kind of collective life which was of very great value....

On shaky ground

How many disasters will it take for us to learn from our mistakes ('Warning quakes' Down To Earth , Vol 7, No 15; December 31) In the past several years there were two destructive earthquakes of moderate intensity near Khandwa -- one in Latur at 6.3 on Richter scale in September 1993 and another near Jabalpur at 6.1 in June 1997. Both these incidents have shown that even a moderate earthquake can cause colossal damage to property , many fatalities and unwarranted misery to the residents of the affected area.

The compensation for the victims is never enough. Moreover, it cannot alleviate the misery and emotional distress it causes. Necessary steps are needed to reduce the impact of a disaster by minimising loss of life and damage to property and infrastructure.

Little known developments after the Latur earthquake have clearly demonstrated that simple measures can dramatically improve the ability of a building to withstand earthquakes. In Latur, houses were made of a variety of materials, some with seismic features. They were then subjected to shocks to assess whether they were earthquake-resistant. It was observed that those possessing such features withstood the shocks whereas those lacking them, collapsed. The demonstration also established the effectiveness of the seismic strengthening (retrofitting) of the existing houses which can considerably improve the chances of its occupants' survival. Detailed technical studies were carried out by the ministry of urban affairs and employment at Latur and at Jabalpur. Their objective was to formulate guidelines and recommendations for corrective as well as preventive action that the government and residents can adopt.

Early implementation of the recommendations could go a long way in ensuring the safety of the people....

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