Turkey quake rings alarm bells in India


The earthquake in Turkey has rung alarm bells in India whose 59 per cent landmass is prone to tremors and the national capital falls in the world's second highest seismic zone. Cities and towns in eight states and Union Territories in the country fall under Zone-V, putting them at great risk of earthquakes of the highest intensity.


The Turkey earthquake has opened a series of debates and conversations around seismic zones, quake-prone areas, and how such natural disasters can be predicted earlier to save more lives. Turkey, being in one of the most seismically active zones on the planet was prone to an earthquake of severe intensity, as per experts.


However, even though a large quake was expected at some point in this region, no scientist has "ever predicted a major earthquake," the U.S. Geological Survey says. The fatality or intensity of an earthquake is determined by the severity of its shaking or tremors.


Areas with un-reinforced buildings or soft soil that prolongs shaking are prone to higher casualties. Quakes or tremors can also cause dangerous secondary effects, like landslides, fires, and tsunamis.


In July 2021, Minister of State for Science & Technology and Earth Sciences, Jitendra Singh had informed the Lok Sabha that considering the recorded history of earthquakes in the country, "a total of 59 per cent of the land mass of India is prone to earthquakes of different intensities."


India's total landmass has been classified into four seismic zones, in accordance with the seismic zone map. The National Centre for Seismology, under the Ministry of Earth Sciences, is responsible for studying earthquake mechanisms and shifts in seismic activities.


It has a total of 115 observatories across the country and prepared a government report in 2021, categorising the country into four seismic zones: zone five (most fatal), zone four, zone three, and zone two (least fatal). The report undertakes around 11 per cent of the country under zone five, including the entirety of entire northeastern India, parts of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Rann of Kutch in Gujarat, part of North Bihar, and Andaman & Nicobar Islands.


The National Capital region comes under zone four, which is the second-highest category. While a large earthquake may not originate in Delhi itself, it is prone to the impact of earthquakes originating in the Himalayas.


The Indian subcontinent has a history of devastating earthquakes with the major reason for the high frequency and intensity of the earthquakes being that the Indian plate is driving into Asia at a rate of approximately 47 mm/year. Geographical statistics of India show that almost 59 per cent of the land is vulnerable to earthquakes.


A World Bank and United Nations report shows estimates that around 200 million city dwellers in India will be exposed to storms and earthquakes by 2050.


Thus, quake-hit Turkey and Syria hold a big lesson for India. In Delhi an estimated 90% of buildings are at risk of collapsing in case of a strong earthquake. In 2019, MCD had drafted a safety audit policy to protect buildings from earthquakes. But this failed to take off because the onus of conducting and paying for the audit was put on the public.


Earthquakes can’t be predicted, but measures to minimise loss of lives must be prioritised.


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