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Disaster waiting to happen

 MPost |  2015-05-13 23:18:33.0  |  New Delhi

A little more than two weeks after thousands died in a mammoth earthquake, Nepal got rocked by a ferocious earthquake again on Tuesday. Another powerful tremor on Tuesday afternoon has left at least 32 dead and more than 1,000 injured. The event has raised disturbing questions about what’s next for the already traumatized landlocked Himalayan nation. Nepal just endured a similar catastrophe weeks ago and was resiliently trying to get back on its feet. Due to the tremor today, some buildings that were damaged earlier collapsed completely today. Tuesday’s 7.4-magnitude earthquake struck at a depth of about 15 kilometres (9 miles), the U.S. Geological Survey has said. For comparison, the 7.8 quake on April 25, which killed more than 8,000 people, was three times bigger and 5.6 times stronger, in terms of energy released. This latest earthquake is predictably bad news for Delhi and other urban cities.

 According to a recent study, at least 38 Indian cities lie in high-risk seismic zones and nearly 60 percent of the subcontinental landmass is vulnerable to earthquakes. Barring rare exceptions, India’s hastily-built cities and public spaces are open and extremely vulnerable to great damage from earthquakes. In terms of per capita casualty risk, most of these cities rank amongst the highest in the world. The capital city of Delhi and the surrounding National Capital Region (NCR) sit snug in seismically active areas. Delhi’s declining or non-existent construction standards, haphazard urban development and skyrocketing population levels have further compounded the grave risk. If and when an earthquake originates near Delhi, the likely consequences will be devastating.

It’s safe to say that a majority of Delhi’s population would be sitting ducks. A statutory mapping has been done <g data-gr-id="32">of</g> all at-risk cities by different urban bodies belonging to both the central and state governments. However despite repeated exhortations on the part of geologists, it has not resulted in any concerted political action on the part of either state or central governments. In each of these cities which have been identified as lying in the seismic zone, the structure of the soil varies in different parts of the city. 

In Delhi, the trans-Jamuna area has sandy soil which is not safe for high rise constructions. Hence trans-Yamuna remains unsafe as compared to houses built in the Ridge area. Unfortunately, despite having strict building codes in place, these are not being implemented. Houses in Delhi and in many other cities are often constructed overnight using three-inch brick walls which will not be able to absorb even a tumble after a shock. The ministry of home affairs, under which NDMA falls, is planning to launch a campaign to create public awareness about the need for quake-resistant buildings. 

The Supreme Court had also mandated that all five-storey buildings and above housing more than 100 people must have an engraved metal plate to ensure it is earthquake resistant. Experts warn that unless the National Building Code is not strictly implemented, India can go the Nepal way if hit by a major earthquake in the near future. This is a disaster perhaps waiting and lingering to happen if action is not taken in time.

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