Jolted again

Published October 27, 2015
Residents search for belongings in the rubbles of a house after it was damaged by an earthquake in Peshawar, Pakistan, October 26, 2015. —Reuters
Residents search for belongings in the rubbles of a house after it was damaged by an earthquake in Peshawar, Pakistan, October 26, 2015. —Reuters

As if on cue, the earth shook one more time in October, 10 years to the month after the devastating quake of 2005. The great jolt of 2015 may compare with the quake of 2005 on the Richter scale, but on ground its aftermath has been very different.

This time, even though more than 100 precious lives were lost, there was mercifully no catastrophic damage and no calamitous loss of life on the scale we saw in 2005.

Of course, the main reason for this is that the epicentre of yesterday’s temblor lay further away from densely populated urban centres, as well as the far greater depth at which it occurred. But there is no escaping the memories of 2005 it seems, and certainly no escaping the lessons that those memories left behind for us.

Take a look: Over 200 dead as 7.5 magnitude earthquake jolts Pakistan

Our country is built atop a zone of “heightened seismic hazard”, to use the language of geologists, and even after 2005, geologists had warned that only a fraction of the massive pent-up energy that has built up in the labyrinthine network of fault lines that we live on, had been released. The risk of more large earthquakes persists they said, and building codes needed to be strictly enforced to ensure concrete structures could withstand another shock. The jolt of 2015 is a reminder that this was no idle talk.

The scale of the devastation may have been lesser this time, but nevertheless it cannot be ignored. In some cases, we had a narrow miss, as the footage that showed the elevated portions of the Rawalpindi metro bus route shaking, made clear.

Landslides were reported in some parts of the Northern Areas, with a particularly big one at Nagar, but fortunately none near habitable areas and no glacial lake outburst floods were caused by the quake.

We were lucky, in spite of the considerable damage and hardship for untold numbers of people, but one is inevitably left wondering whether the structures built since 2005 have been constructed specifically to withstand a stronger shock.

Sadly, some channels chose to bring religious scholars on air and ask them what people could do to better prepare themselves for natural disasters. The response, predictably enough, was that people ought to become more pious and pray harder.

The jolt of 2015 is an unambiguous reminder that an earthquake can strike again at any moment, and that little can be done to prevent this in a zone of heightened seismic hazard.

An earthquake can strike at almost any place in the country. And if its epicentre should be any nearer, or its depth any shallower — factors that are entirely up to nature — then the consequences could be far more devastating than they were this time.

Let this episode jolt us into the awareness that it is high time we woke up and took disaster preparedness and response more seriously.

Published in Dawn, October 27th, 2015

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