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Still quaking in our boots
Despite the fact that two-thirds of India is prone to earthquakes and the several nasty tremors we have had in the past, our preparedness to deal with future earthquakes leaves much to be desired
EARTHQUAKES ARE UNDOUBTEDLY the most potent danger amongst all natural disasters. The Indian subcontinent has had a long history of earthquakes. Approximately 65 per cent of India is susceptible to seismic damage. According to the current seismic zone map of India, the most vulnerable areas are located in the Himalayan and sub-Himalayan regions, Kutch and the Andaman and Nicobar islands.
Earthquakes occur without any warning and cause disasters in terms of human lives, livestock, and loss of property and means of livelihood. These hazards threaten millions of lives and can cause large-scale financial, infrastructure, crop, and productivity losses that hinder India’s development. Allowing dense populations on a flood plain or permitting poor or un-enforced building codes in earthquake zones is as likely as a natural event to cause casualties and losses.
Earthquakes of varying intensities are known to occur at frequent intervals in India. The tremors may lead to the complete collapse of buildings, tunnels, pipelines and other rigid structures. In some cases, the communication channels and transportation breaks down completely, which becomes a great hurdle for the rescue operations. Ground shaking can also cause catastrophic destruction from fires due to disruption of electrical power lines and gas lines.
Immediately after the tremors are felt, rescue operators come into action. Humanitarian assistance is sent to the scene by military, medical and rescue teams. Recognised non-governmental organisations and volunteers with experience in relief operations rush to the earthquake-affected areas to save victims and bring out survivors or dead bodies from the debris. For immediate relief, food packets are dropped from aeroplanes to reach the people displaced, and construct interim shelter for them.
Relief operations mainly focus on the immediate needs of victims, helping to provide shelter, warm clothing and blankets. Various rescue camps are set up to provide medical aid. Sniffer dogs help in locating dead bodies trapped inside the rubble. International relief agencies, aid agencies, groups, individuals and countries come out with support for victims, either in terms of relief material or financial aid.
In the event of any earthquake of global recognition, significant efforts start pouring in from many international organisations. International social organisations and committees in the likes of United Nations, Red Cross, World Health Organisation, International Medical Corps, etc. make unified efforts to provide all the assistance they can to victims of immediate earthquake areas. Amenities, such as medical supplies, food supplies, clothing, accommodation, etc. are rushed to the victims by these international organisations as a part of crisis management.
Mr Mihir R Bhatt, director of All India Disaster Mitigation Institute, Ahmedabad, talked to merinews about the areas in which India needs improvement to provide better rescue operations and rescue works. He said “We are lacking in terms of supporting and providing resources to the local initiatives to rescue and rehabilitate disaster victims. We have never put resources, tools, equipments, skills, and know-how in the hands of the people who are affected or are at risk. Decentralised disaster risk reduction is our direction for a safer India.”
The crisis management scenario in India during the event of an earthquake, although quite active, is yet to reach the level that prevalent in Western countries. What leaves us lagging is the improper coordination of relief operations and our inability to whip up crucial supplies in time. The result is the horrific injuries and the high casualty figures that are often associated with earthquakes in our country.
The need of the hour is a meticulous comparison-based study to identify the areas of susceptibility, and recommend improvements that India needs to implement. According to Mr Bhatt, “We need basic communication equipments for early community warning; mobile emergency health units and decentralised mobile power suppliers for sudden disasters.”

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