Indians need be more prepared for natural calamities: Experts

Within a month after a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck Japan, India experienced two moderate tremors. Were these warnings for something bigger? If experts are to believed, they were and say Indians need to be more prepared to deal with natural calamities.

“Some of these could also be seen as a precursor for something bigger, considering India’s vulnerability to earthquakes because of its location in a high risk seismic zone,” N.V.C. Menon, former member of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), told IANS.

According to him, it is important to launch an awareness campaign to prepare Indian households to prepare them in responding to natural calamities such as the one that wreaked destruction in Japan.

“We could face massive destruction if a high intensity earthquake strikes India,” Menon said, stressing there is the “need for a massive awareness campaign as people here are not clear about the steps needed to reduce the impact of an earthquake.”

The government, under the aegis of NDMA, is working to enhance India’s preparedness to face an event like that in Japan.

However, people should also prepare themselves to deal with an emergency, Menon said.

Households in quake-prone areas should prepare emergency kits with candles, medicines, match boxes, important documents and other necessary items so that they can evacuate immediately in the event of an earthquake.

Studies have shown that more than 60 percent of India is vulnerable to earthquakes and most of the deaths during a quake are caused by the collapse of buildings.

According to geographical data, Kashmir, Punjab, the western and central Himalayas, the northeastern region and the Rann of Kutch fall under the Zone 5 category, referred to as the Very High Damage Risk Zone.

“Northeastern states like Assam and Meghalaya and cities like Shimla and Delhi are sitting on the brink of a disaster,” V.K. Sharma, professor of disaster management at the Indian Institute of Public Administration, told IANS.

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“With about 685 slums and congested localities in the old city with maximum number of unsafe buildings, Delhi could collapse in the event of a high intensity earthquake,” warned Sharma.

More than 50 percent of Shimla could also collapse, he added.

The biggest problem, according to Sharma, lies in the non-adherence of the prescribed building codes by private builders while erecting any new structure.

The National Building Codes of India contains stipulations for fire safety requirements, materials to be used, structural design and construction, including safety and building and plumbing services.

In cities maintained by municipal corporations it is expected that all building codes are followed for new constructions.

“But very often the builders and contractors violate the codes,” Menon said.

This was the reason for the collapse of the buildings in Ahmedabad and Bhuj in Gujarat during the 2002 earthquake even though they were almost 480 km away from the epicentre of earthquake, he asserted.

The condition is least encouraging in rural areas and in those urban areas where private constructors are hired for building purposes.

“In these cases, people employ local constructors who have no engineering background and are not aware of any code,” said the expert.

Menon advised a few things that can be done by households to increase the earthquake resistance of existing buildings.

“For existing buildings, rapid visual screening by trained civil engineers can help find its quake resistance capacity,” he said.

The study of the soil type and the possibility of sand liquifaction that can happen during quake vibrations should also done, the expert suggested.

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