A Time to Avoid Panic
Last Saturday’s earthquake that caused over 4,000 deaths and injuries to over 10,000 people apart from causing unimagible devastation all over Nepal is the kind of tragedy that it will take people many years to get over. According to official statements, the ultimate tally of deaths could well be over 5,000. The death toll in the Kathmandu Valley alone stands at 1,053 people. What will be extremely difficult to cope with is the large number of people rendered homeless as a result of the terrible earthquake. Mercifully, assistance has come pouring in from all tions with India taking a lead in the matter. There have been after-shocks as well as another subsequent earthquake measuring about 5.7 on the Richter scale.
The need of the hour is expeditious help from as many countries as fast as possible. Nepal has neither helicopters nor the expertise to rescue survivors. The country is in dire need of orthopaedic surgeons, nerve specialists, aesthetists and paramedics. It is also in need of highway engineers and construction crews. And to eble help to be rendered expeditiously it needs the Kathmandu airport to function efficiently round the clock. What it does not need is rumours spread by some irresponsible television channels and sections of the press. One cannot make predictions about earthquakes. True, when talking about an earthquake-prone region like the Himalayan belt, one can talk in the future tense and say that more earthquakes cannot be ruled out. But no one can predict that the next earthquake will come tomorrow, the next week, the next month or five years from now. It can come in an hour or be delayed by 30 years or even more. This is what an expert like B.K.Rastogi, Director-general of the Institute of Seismological Research, Ahmedabad had to say about last Saturday’s earthquake: “An earthquake of the same magnitude is overdue. That may happen either today or 50 years from now... in the region of the Kashmir, Himachal, Punjab and Uttarakhand Himalayas. Seismic gaps have been identified in these regions.” He spoke of earthquakes occurring because the movement of tectonic plates generates stress every time, and rocks at the surface break in response. When the stress accumulates, every 100 km stretch of the 2,000 km-long Himalayas can be hit by a high-magnitude earthquake. “The accumulation of stress is going on everywhere. But where it will reach the elastic limit, we don’t know nor also when. But what we do know is that it is happening everywhere,” he added. He also pointed out that it had taken nearly 200 years for an earthquake of this magnitude to happen on the Himalayan belt. An earthquake with the same epicentre—80 km north-west of Kathmandu—an earthquake of 7.5 magnitude had hit the region in 1833. For almost 200 years, we have not had anything similar in a notoriously earthquake-prone region. And yet, despite what the experts have to say about the unpredictability of earthquakes, we have had television channels somehow making statements about an earthquake 32 times as powerful as the one that hit Nepal last Saturday likely to hit Assam in the near future. In a matter as unpredictable as earthquakes, how does anyone dare to talk about an earthquake with precisely 32 times the power of the Nepal earthquake being ready to hit Assam? We would like to know which expert has the impossible ability to predict the precise strength of an earthquake that is yet in the womb of the future. It is such irresponsible reporting that causes unwarranted panic all over the region. At a time when the responsibility of the media is to ensure better preparedness for such tural calamities and to draw attention to the large number of multi-storeyed apartment buildings and government buildings that could turn out to be death-traps in an earthquake-prone region, it is unfortute that a section of the electronic media should be doing much more to spread unnecessary panic without the benefit of any scientific back-up.