Why Pakistan more vulnerable to earthquakes

By Dr Asif Channer

October 11, 2021 12:23 PM

Earthquakes result due to shaking of the surface of the Earth due to sudden movements of tectonic plates, volcanic eruptions, Atomic explosions and Collision of the Meteorites with the earth surface. Two factors, the intensity and the duration determine their catastrophic impacts.

An effective tool to measure the intensity of earthquakes even today is the Richter scale. Mr Charles Francis Richter was the man who invented this apparatus in 1935. This scale ranges from 0 to 9. The Magnitude 2 is just noticeable but 5 or above causes damage over a wide area. The largest-ever figure recorded in human history on the Richter scale is 9.5. Moreover, there are many earthquakes on daily basis globally which remain hidden and are unperceivable.

It is not possible to predict the earthquake, pre-shocks or aftershocks despite the scientific knowledge and technology; thus handicapping to specify their exact dates, timings, location, magnitude and intensity.

Though earthquake activity in Pakistan is mainly concentrated in the North and Western divisions of the country but it is alarming that all the major cities of Pakistan are located on the fault lines. Islamabad sits on five major fault lines running through the city which are capable of generating large earthquakes. Karachi and other parts of the Indus Makran coast have four fault lines around.

History of the earthquakes reveals that even in the pre-partition era the region has been effecting drastically by them; to date 30 such incidents have stricken the Pakistani region. The first documented and the worst earthquake which hit the region was reported in 834 in the Jungshahi, Shah Bandar coastal Sindh with a magnitude of 8 on the Richter scale which claimed more than 150,0000 lives.

Followed by chronological order, earthquakes occurred as on May 2, 1668 in Shah Bandar coastal Sindh with 50,000 deaths and the recorded magnitude was 7.6 on the Richter Scale; on June 16, 1819 Allahbund which lies in Sindh-Gujarat border, magnitude 7.5 with 3,200 deaths; on September 24, 1827 Lahore, 7.8 magnitude 1,000 people died as a result; on January 24, 1857 Kahan, Balochistan, magnitude 8; on January 22, 1865 Peshawar, magnitude 8; in 1883 Jhalawan Balochistan; in 1889 Jhalawan Balochistan, magnitude 8; on December 20, 1892 Qilla Abduallah Sibbi Balochistan, magnitude of 6.8, 100 people died; on October 21, 1909 magnitude 7; on February 1, 1929 Balochistan, magnitude 7.1; on August 24, 1931 Sharigh valley, Balochistan magnitude 7; on August 27, 1931 Balochistan magnitude of 7.4.

After partition, the first major earthquakes was recorded as on December 28, 1974, Hunza, Hazara Sawat, magnitude 6.2 in which about 5,300 people lost their lives and 17,000 were injured; on December 12, 1983 Gilgit-Baltistan, magnitude 7 with 12–26 deaths and 60–483 injures; on May 20, 1992 Kohat Division, magnitude 6 including 36 deaths and 100 injuries; on February 27, 1997 Balochistan, magnitude 7 with 57 deaths; on November 1,3,20, 2002 Gilgit-Astore region killing 41 persons injuring over 100 persons; on September 24, 2013 Awaran District, Balochistan, magnitude 7.7 with 825 deaths and 700  injuries; on September 28, 2013 in Awaran Balochistan, magnitude 6.8 with 400 deaths; On May 8, 2014 in Sindh, magnitude 4.5 with 2 deaths and 50 injuries; on December 25, 2015 Gilgit-Baltistan, magnitude 6.3 with 4 deaths and 100 injured victims.

The World’s 23rd most deadly earthquake hit Quetta on May 31, 1935 which had a magnitude of 7.7 and about 30,000 to 60,000 people died from the impact. Moreover, the strongest ever earthquake of magnitude of 8.1 in the history of the region struck the Makran-Sindh coastal which triggered the strong Tsunami on November 27, 1945, two years before the partition of the subcontinent and it claimed 4000 lives.

However, on October 8, 2005, the worst-ever earthquake in the history of modern South Asia and Pakistan hit the Northern parts of the country with a magnitude of 7.6 on the Richter scale. More than five million people were affected by the earthquake, about 100,000 including 19000 children lost their lives besides 3.3 million people were made homeless and 250,000 animals were killed. The devastation was beyond imagination as many villages were wiped off from the surface of the earth. In addition, 978 aftershocks were recorded until October 27, 2005.

During the same month on October 29, 2008, another earthquake targeted Ziarat Balochistan with a 6.4 magnitude resulting in 215 deaths and 200 injured persons. On January 18, 2011 in Dalbandin, Balochistan with a magnitude of 7.2 including the deaths and few injuries.

On September 23, 2019 in Muzaffarabad and Northern parts sustained the jerks with the magnitude of 6.2 resulting in 37 deaths and about 800 unfortunates injured victims along with damage to buildings and infrastructures. On October 9, 2019, a tremor with the intensity of 4.5 was felt in the Muzaffarabad areas however no loss of the human or the building resulted.

On December 20, 2019, an earthquake of 6.4-magnitude swayed Northern Pakistan and Afghanistan. Luckily only a child was injured and a house partially damaged in the Upper Dir District in KPK.

Moreover Lahore, Murree, Islamabad, Chiniot, Peshawar, Mansehra, Battagram and Gilgit-Baltistan felt the tremors. The parliamentary session was ongoing and members vacated the house immediately. Due to panic the representative of the foreign offices also marched out of buildings.

Currently, on September 28, 2020 the Seism vibrated Eastern Kashmir, India and Pakistan with magnitude of 4.2 on Richter scale. Lahore also felt it but fortunately, no loss resulted.

Despite the lapse of 15 years of the worst ever earthquake which hit Pakistan, Federal, Provincial and Local Governments have not been able to fully rehabilitate and reconstruct the regions, establish scientific Search and Rescue infrastructure, safe and effective evacuation  & transportation of victims, mapping of the affected areas or areas likely to be affected by similar events, integrated contingency plans per need of the area, construct and reinforce the earthquake-resistant buildings in accordance to the modern “Building Codes and guidelines” including the needs assessment of hospitals and other compulsory facilities.

It is worth mentioning that the fact was in the notice of the cornered Authorities when Capital Islamabad was being established in 1960 that there was a permanent threat of earthquakes in the region hence multistory buildings were prohibited to be erected as a policy. However, if unavoidable, not more than two-storey buildings could be constructed but regrettably, it was wholly ignored.

At present there are multistory buildings, Apartments, Plazas, Market and Panoramas etc founded everywhere and new construction is underway uninterruptedly which show not only the gross violations of the regulations/polices  but also posing a constant threat for an unimaginable human loss and tantamount to criminal negligence  

Earthquakes are unavoidable in Pakistan hence it is imperative for the federal, provincial and local governments to adopt preventive measures and reinforce or formulate revised policies and plans to minimize human and property loss like strengthening the Metrological department with all scientific Recourse including human Recourse /Professionals with effective Communication, Coordination and Collaboration Medium, the introduction of “Building Codes” to construct all official, commercial, residential and other buildings both in public and private sectors. The solid infrastructure like roads, bridges, dams, buildings like hospitals, teachings institutions, railway stations, airports, radio stations, power stations, Sui Gas, PTCL installations etc should be fortified with the best quality building materials, resisting the high-intensity shocks. In addition, the timely repair and maintenance of all buildings/infrastructures be also ensured.

Furthermore, all the governmental, semi-governmental and private housing societies, development authorities, construction companies must consider the “Earthquake Factor” along with other safety measures in their planning and development and its cost be incorporated in the development budget.

“Basic Disaster Management Trainings” be included in the academic curriculum right from the primary to university level and this training be also imparted to earthquake-prone areas/communities along with the establishment of “Community Awareness Response Teams (CERTs)” to respond locally and immediately. “The Building Evacuation Drills” and “Mock exercises” be practised regularly in the teaching institutions including all public gathering buildings like banks, shopping malls, libraries, theatre, sports gymnasiums, hotels, industries even in hospitals thus sensitizing all to play their role before, during and after earthquakes. Moreover, the “Evacuation Plans” for all these buildings under reference be designed and pasted on prominent/visible places. This will help in safe evacuation and escape of public not only in the earthquake but also in other emergencies like fire, terrorism etc. Furthermore, workplace safety department or at least appointment of safety supervisors to ensure all the safety precaution is mandatory.

All the above-mentioned suggestions & recommendations are not simple. Nevertheless, the task is achievable through strong political and personal commitment, legal framework, well defined revised policy formulation, implementation and follow-ups, to handle earthquakes, the permanent natural disaster prevalent in the region, to make Pakistan a resilient nation.

Written By

Dr Asif Channer

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