EARTHQUAKE THREAT AND PREPAREDNESS
A.N.M. Nurul Haque
THE two earthquakes of moderate magnitude that rattled a vast area of Bangladesh within a span of 24 hours in the past week have once again brought forth the earthquake concern as well as awakened the nation to the need of preparedness for facing the spectre.
One of the most powerful earthquakes that hit southern Asia on December 26, 2004, unleashing a tsunami, also shook Bangladesh with water rising by several feet at different places. The earthquake, measuring 7.36 on the Richter scale, shook buildings and other structures and caused cracks in a number of structures in the port city.
In the recent past, four notable earthquakes occurred in Bangladesh. A quake of magnitude 5.6 occurred on May 8, 1997, in Sylhet, damaging some buildings. On November 21 in the same year a quake of 5.9 magnitude hit Chittagong and brought down a five-storied under-construction building, claiming 23 lives.
North Bengal and Dhaka city were rocked by a moderate earthquake in December 2001, and some buildings in Dhaka city developed cracks. A magnitude 6 quake hit Chittagong and Khagrachhari on November 7, 2007 and caused many cracks in the hills.
Bangladesh is an earthquake prone country as it lies along the border of the Eurasian and Indo-Australian plates, where earthquakes of comparatively uniform intensity are generated at regular intervals. In this region, earthquakes may occur in a cyclic order of hundred years and, according to the experts, the Great Indian Earthquake of 1897 is likely to be repeated every hundred years.
The meteorological department detected at least 90 earthquakes that occurred in the country between May 2007 and July 2008, nine of which measured above 5 on the Richter scale, and the epicenters of 95% of the quakes were within a 600 km radius of Dhaka city. Buet observatory recorded 86 quakes between January 2006 and May 2009, of which four were above magnitude 5.
The threat of earthquake is a matter of great concern to Bangladesh, and repeated tremors in different areas may be warnings for a severe one, as per opinion of the experts in this field. But the worrying aspect is that the people’s preparedness and awareness to face a fatal earthquake seem to be almost zero. What has so far been done is preparation of a map dividing the country into three seismic zones.
Natural calamities like cyclone, flood, tornado, tidal bore, drought and downpour are more or less known to the people of our country. But an earthquake is quite different from other natural calamities because any kind of forecasting or prediction is impossible.
So it is urgently necessary to prepare the people of our country adequately to face a catastrophe like an earthquake. The government has taken up a five-year project, titled “Comprehensive Disaster Management Project,” to reduce the risks of natural calamities, with special focus on creating awareness about earthquakes. But nothing noteworthy has happened so far.
Dhaka is the riskiest city amongst the top 20 cities of the world according to the Earthquake Disaster Risk Index (EDRI). A catastrophic earthquake may cause heavy casualties and destruction of properties in our densely populated capital city because of lack of awareness and necessary preparations.
The meteorological department established a seismic observatory at Chittagong in 1954, which is now obsolete and not adequate for a country located in the seismic zone.
The High Court, in a commendable move, recently issued a rule on the government to procure necessary equipment for conducting rescue operations in case a stronger quake hits any part of the country in future.
The government should take immediate steps for setting up a seismological observatory network equipped with modern and sensitive earthquake monitoring facilities for continuous monitoring and prediction.
The most important part of the task is to enhance the level of awareness among the people to face earthquakes. The print and electronic media can play a vital role in preparing the people to face such a calamity.
As far as the post-quake rescue operation is concerned, the government should organise rescue operation campaigns and civil defense exercises all over the country under its Comprehensive Disaster Management Project. which is financed by the donor agencies.
A. N. M. Nurul Haque is a columnist of The Daily Star
AUGUST 17, 2009