Himalayan blunders - Wake up call

21quake184.jpgThere is a beautiful, touching poem on Metroblogging Lahore, originally written by Mary Frye:

Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die!

Something we all can do besides compassion and humanity for the present disaster (the Pakistan earthquake near Islamabad in Hindu Kush Mountains a few hours ago with over 18,000 casualties) is to donate International Federation of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent or Oxfam or your preferred charity but let us....

... also use this tragedy to remind people that one of the biggest disasters waiting to happen are giant earthquakes within Himalayas, especially the shallow thrust earthquakes with magnitude 8 or more like the one today. The extent of disaster will always get more exacerbated by extremely dense population in the region compared to many parts of the world. Historically, the Himalayan region has not seen big earthquakes recently and the strain has been building up. Please educate yourself about Himalayan risks- it is not an Indian or Pakistani problem only. It involves Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan all of them together - something beyond political boundaries. Same awareness should be raised in other South Asian countries besides India. Quote from Science article by Bilham, Gaur, and Molnar in 2001.

"Fve major earthquakes have visited India in the past decade (see the table), culminating in the devastating Bhuj earthquake of 26 January 2001. That earthquake in particular called attention to the hazards posed by buildings not designed to withstand major but obviously probable earthquakes. It also focused the eyes of the public away from a part of India where even worse damage and loss of life should be expected-the Himalayan arc (see the figure). Several lines of evidence show that one or more great earthquakes may be overdue in a large fraction of the Himalaya, threatening millions of people in that region."

If you live in India, please pester your elected officials for long-term earthquake risk mitigation policies. What good are those young, metrosexual, urbane politicians that are featured on India Today almost every month? Another idea mooted on Sepia Mutiny was that to begin with Multinational Companies demand that their buildings be highly earthquake damage prone as a starting point. If you felt or not even felt an earthquake event, contact Stacey Martin who is building a comprehensive earthquake database for South Asia. Intensity maps are very important for understanding earthquake risks, prevent future damages, and public policy. So if you live in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Nepal, and Afghanistan, please visit his website ASAP to fill out his questionnaire. You help build intensity maps not some nerd scientists only. That is the first step in quest for better preparing South Asia for future earthquakes, along with the strict implementation of building codes. There is an old adage "Earthquakes do not kill, buildings do". One has to begin with understanding the seismicity, nature of strong motion in the South Asian region, and then accordingly even update to newer building codes. In South Asia, strict and honest implementation of building codes is almost non-existent.Also, it is time to make peace for humanity and science, setting aside old mistrust.

If you live in US, MacArthur Genius Award winner/ fellow Brian Tucker has spent fair amount of time in Nepal and India trying to make schools earthquake resistant and is closely working with Indian NGOs like SEEDS. Please support them as school children are most vulnerable during earthquakes. Perhaps, businesses with interest in South Asia could support organizations like GeoHazards International and SEEDS financially as an outreach. Another organization doing similar work, and also experience both in Indian and Pakistan Himalayas but with slightly different mitigation approach is Earth Consultants International.

PPerhaps, businesses with interest in South Asia could support organizations like GeoHazards International and SEEDS financially as an outreach.eople like Roger Bilham from UC, Boulder, amongst other scientists including from India and to lesser degree I have been making noise for a while. Emergency numbers for earthquake information announced on Pakistan Television are: +92-51-921 3891 and +92-51-922 2666. The Indian Home Ministry's Crisis Management Center Control Room phone number is +91-11-2309 3563.

Do something for the present calamity and the future ones too - Do it. Learning from a disaster and acting upon is the only dignified and real way to pay homage.

Figure from New York Times and emergency numbers are from Bloomberg.com.