Written by Syed Zharif U Ahmed
Earthquake is a phenomenon that has been happening since the birth of this planet once the crust settled in and started floating over the overly hot magma beneath it and had been the pointers for the creation and annihilation of entire continents... ...
The reason or reasons for the movements of tectonic plates on the Earth’s crust is something that is still to be deduced by the men of science even after their extensive search for it extending for decades and centuries. The lack of reason(s) for which earthquakes occur also makes the development of any early warning system infeasible and rather impossible and thus it has been literally impossible to avoid the disasters and human suffering caused by the earthquakes. Problem is that it also triggers smaller disasters in chain of destruction, which are not limited to but includes, avalanches, landslides, fires due to wrecked gas distribution lines, and many more to list. The threat, scale and intensity of the destruction and devastation caused by the earthquakes are increased by the urbanization of our global civilization. The cost of the earthquakes does not lie in human lives only but also in the overall economic effects that are resultant of the disaster even after a long time, a good example of which is Haiti, which is still struggling both economically and politically after the devastating earthquake of 2010.
The last great earthquake happened in Nepal and was of Richter scale 7.8. It struck in 25th April 2015 and an aftershock was also reported in the 12th of May of the same year. The resulting devastation caused the death of about 9000 people while many are left homeless and without any shelters beneath the cloudy sky threatening them of monsoon rains every now and then. Tourists who were scattered in the basecamps of the Himalayan Mountains trying to climb the Everest or Annapurna were hit with sudden avalanches and stones falling off the mountain due to the earthquake. Many historical places in Nepal were destroyed, which includes but is not limited to Kathmandu Darbar Squire, Daharaha Tower and Manikamma Temple. Nepal, being a small third world country with an economy which is heavily dependent on tourism and tourism related industries and businesses will take some time to recover from the devastation in which most of its infrastructure is either destroyed or badly damaged along with many of the tourist attractions.
Bangladesh. To the east, the Burmese Plate pushes west against the Indian Plate as the Indian plate subducts beneath the Burmese Plate, rocks fold and buckle to form the hills and valleys of the Burma Arc. The devastating 2004 earthquake and tsunami in Sumatra occurred along the boundary between the Indian and Burmese plates which posed as a warning of the probable risk of a major earthquake in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh, which sits on an active earthquake zone has much to worry about a probable disaster of similar scales, the damage of which in life and property would make Nepal look like a small event as Bangladesh being the 9th most populated country in the planet with a population of 160 million people, of which approximately 20% resides in the capital Dhaka, in form or another, stands to lose more than Nepal or Haiti in case of an earthquake due to unplanned urbanization and not following proper construction codes (an example of which would be the Rana Plaza incident where approximately 4000 people died due to a building collapse, caused by not following the construction codes properly). An overcrowded city with this combination is a recipe for disaster of gigantic proportions waiting for the fuse to ignite, a major earthquake would act as a mere switch to that.
The problem with most of the Bangladeshi cities, including Dhaka, is that they lacks proper planning, which resulted in a shortage of proper sanitation and drainage systems, the brunt of which is suffered by the residents of the metropolitans every monsoon. In case of an earthquake, we are looking at shortage of clean drinking water and spread of waterborne diseases in the urban area, or what will be left of it. Due to improper planning the roads at some places are not as accessible as the others and will make any rescue attempt a uphill battle on a slippery slope and thanks to the ignorance of the construction codes most of the buildings in the cities are vulnerable to a major earthquake of Richter scale 6 or more.
There are no known defenses against the wrath of nature, especially the manifestation of it as an earthquake. What we mortals can merely try to do is to reduce the amount of lives lost as a result of such a disaster by being prepared to respond to it as quickly as possible. Awareness is half of preparation. Thus creating awareness among the populace by employing the media outlets in every form will help raise the level of preparation for such a disaster. A good technique to deal with such an issue would be to run regular earthquake drills in every building, both governmental and non-governmental, with authorized oversight validating such drills. This routine would benefit the residents or inhabitants of the buildings to respond to an earthquake more rapidly.
In the meantime, the Fire Service and Civil Defense Department outfits all around the country must be equipped and trained to handle an event of such magnitude promptly and properly. A system of volunteers can be developed from the ranks of school and college students in their respective areas as a secondary line of defense who can be deployed to help the Civil Defense personnel in case of any rescue operations. It had been a practice of our defense forces to aid our people in case of a disaster, be it natural or man-made, therefore training and equipping their responsible units and personnel appropriately should also help the overall situation in the event of an earthquake. The government should also allow NGOs to help them take the efforts to raise awareness outside of Dhaka and also to develop potential volunteers to assist others in the time of need.
The next most devastating force of nature that follows after a major earthquake in any coastal or island country is Tsunami if the source of the earthquake is in the sea. Even though our extended length of continental shelf into the ocean along with a similarly extended continental slopes has prevented the threat of tsunami by weakening the approaching waves by reducing the depth of the waves which can be described by basic physics of the wave theory. Even though once a tsunami warning was issued to all coastal populace and population centers back in 2012 when a minor earthquake occurred which was sourced in the Indian Ocean, the extent of which not only was limited to the coastline of Bangladesh rather it also included the coastlines of India and Sri Lanka. The devastating potential of the tsunamis were experienced firsthand by the inhabitants of the Indonesian island of Sumatra in 2004 when thousands of people perished in a matter of moments, the natural biodiversity was interrupted and unbalanced for some years. As with Nepal,Sumatra was also a tourist heaven and thus due to the destruction of tourist infrastructures the economy was also badly affected. The devastation of tsunami is also known to the Japanese, from whose language the word “tsunami” originated from. The Japanese experience earthquake in such a regular basis that their buildings and other infrastructures are designed to withstand earthquakes up to Richter scale 6.5.Japan also has an active tsunami warning system but sometimes the warnings are too little too late, and in some cases futile as was in the case of the Fukushima nuclear power plant which was devastated by a tsunami in 2011, resulting in a civilian nuclear disaster near to the scale of the Chernobyl.
In the end, good news is that NASA is trying to develop a technology which will allow us to predict earthquakes early on, and they hope to deploy it in service within the next 5 years. Even though Hollywood has shown us a great many action thrillers involving earthquakes and the resultant devastation, e.g. 2012, San Andreas, etc. the real life scenario is not that much melodramatic or colorful as it doesn’t have a happy ending for all as shown in the movies. What they forget to show is the suffering of the mass populace and the resultant effect reverberating countrywide, in economy and infrastructure and health issues. We can’t fight the very elements of nature, for without nature were none, nowhere. What we can do is prepare, as the Army says, “Train hard, fight easy.” We can only train hard enough and expect the nature to go easy on us in unleashing its wrath upon us.