The Himalayan frontier area where Joshimath is located has witnessed many earthquakes in the past
The current crisis in Joshimath is clearly the result of anthropogenic interventions without realising the impact of such actions.
I belong to Uttarakhand. I studied in Mussoorie and lived there all my life. I have never seen destructive actions like tunnelling through mountains and constructing roads by making vertical cuts on the slopes.
This had to happen. Any prediction about whether Joshimath is inhabitable or not is anyone’s guess. No scientific work has been done so far to assess this. But I would like to focus on the broader picture.
The Himalayas are mostly sedimentary rock. The Indian plate is going under the Eurasian plate. This movement happens every year at the rate of 4-5 centimetres.
The Himalayas are thus rising at 1-2 centimetres every year. And this process will continue.
The grinding of tectonic plates releases energy in the form of earthquakes. This Himalayan frontier area where Joshimath is located has witnessed many earthquakes in the past.
The Kangra earthquake occurred in what is today Himachal Pradesh in 1905. It killed 30,000 people. Nothing like that has occurred since 1950. Where and when the next big quake will occur is not known.
The writing on the wall is that if an earthquake of magnitude seven or so takes place, thousands or tens of thousands of people would perish. I have scientifically estimated that if the Kangra earthquake were to occur today in the middle of the night, it will kill 600,000-700,000 people.
We keep on trying to find solutions to small problems, neglecting or ignoring bigger ones.
The most important thing is to learn how to live with earthquakes and hazards. That is where we are not paying any attention.
Take the case of the Caribbean country of Haiti. There was an earthquake there in 2010 of magnitude 7. It killed 300,000 people. In 2021, a much bigger earthquake of magnitude 7.3 occurred in Haiti. This time, 10,000 people died.
The reduction in the number of deaths happened because Haiti had learnt its lessons within a decade. This is what we should be doing: Learning to live with earthquakes.
Harsh Kumar Gupta is a Padmashree-winning Indian earth scientist and seismologist. He is a member of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, president of the Geological Society of India and editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia of Solid Earth Geophysics. He spoke to Rajat Ghai
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