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Is India prepared for a massive earthquake? Lessons from tremor that rocked Turkey, Syria

WION logo WION 06-02-2023 Srishti Sisodia
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Turkey was rocked by a powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake on Monday (February 6) with tremors felt in neighbouring countries, as well, even far away as Greenland. The epicentre of the quake was near the Turkish city of Gaziantep. The pre-dawn quake caused massive destruction, wiping out parts of cities in Turkey and Syria, with the combined death toll reaching over 2,000. Experts see the Turkey quake largely as a man-made disaster because of the poor quality of buildings, which collapsed like houses of cards. Search and rescue workers are racing against time to find survivors after the earthquake which was the worst to hit Turkey this century. 

This deadly earthquake also highlights whether or not India is prepared for such a calamity. Experts have noted that India is at high risk, with the Indian subcontinent already having a history of devastating earthquakes. 

How safe is India? 

When it comes to earthquakes, an analytical report stated India is definitely not safe as the Indian plate is driving into Asia at a rate of approximately 47 mm/year, sustaining the elevation of the Tibetan Plateau. It will deform the Himalaya, Altyn Tagh and Tien Shan mountains, and is expected to cause a steady, but unpredictable, sequence of earthquakes in Asia and parts of India. 

Last year in November, scientists warned that India should be prepared as there is a strong possibility of a major earthquake in the Himalayan region and urged to work in advance on ways to minimise the damage to life and property. 

Ajay Paul, who is a senior geophysicist at Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology had explained that the Himalayas have come into existence as a result of a collision between the Indian and Eurasian plates. 

Paul had said that due to the constant pressure of the Eurasian plate on the Indian plate, strained energy accumulating under it keeps releasing itself from time to time in the form of earthquakes. 

As quoted in a report by the news agency PTI, Paul said: "Occurrence of earthquakes due to accumulation of strained energy under the Himalayas is a normal and relentless process. The entire Himalayan region is highly vulnerable to tremors and the strong possibility of a major earthquake is always there." 

However, he had also stated that the release of strained energy or an earthquake cannot be predicted and no one knows when it would happen. He said, "It may happen the next moment, the next month or after 100 years." 

Over the past 150 years, four major earthquakes were recorded in the Himalayan region, including the tremors in Shillong in 1897, in Kangra in 1905, in Bihar-Nepal in 1934 and Assam in 1950. 

Bhuj earthquake (2001)

India has seen many powerful earthquakes, with one of the most deadly ones being the Bhuj earthquake of 2001, which occurred in the Indian state of Gujarat, on the Pakistani border. In addition to killing more than 20,000 people and injuring more than 150,000 others, the quake left hundreds of thousands homeless. But has India learnt its lesson? 

WATCH | Drone captures mountain of rubble in Syria's Sarmada after massive earthquake 


Does India have an earthquake-proof building policy? 

Yes, India does have. The seismologists have classified 59 per cent of the land mass of India as prone to earthquakes of different magnitudes—11 per cent in very high-risk zone V, 18 per cent in high-risk zone IV and 30 per cent in moderate-risk zone III. 

Massive earthquakes will cause high-scale destruction of property and life. Hence, government authorities advise following certain guidelines while constructing buildings, houses and other infrastructures. 

There's also a list of Indian standards that deal with earthquake-resistant construction, which sheds light on the design of structures, construction of buildings, improving earthquake resistance of earthen buildings, repair and seismic strengthening of buildings. 

But to what extent are these guidelines being followed, especially in densely populated cities like New Delhi and Mumbai? 

Earthquake © Provided by WION Earthquake

India's earthquake zones. 

Has Turkey learnt the lesson? 

The earthquake in Turkey came as a nightmare for the nation as the chilly winter night increased the misery on people. Turkey has seen many quakes in the past, including the one in December of 1939, when the country had witnessed a massive earthquake of magnitude 8.0 that struck near the eastern city of Erzincan. More than 20,000 were reportedly killed. 

But has the nation learnt its lesson? If reports are to be believed, many buildings in Turkey are century old and are also made up of poor-quality materials. Reports has stated that those buildings, which were constructed after the 1999 disaster are also not in line with earthquake safety standards. 


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