Making India Earthquake Prepared


    In Context

    • The destruction caused by earthquakes in Turkey should be alarming for us as the geologists have warned of a probable massive earthquake in the Himalayan state.

    More about the Earthquakes

    • Meaning:
      • It is the shaking of the surface of the Earth which results in a sudden release of energy in the Earth’s lithosphere (rocky outer part of the Earth) that creates seismic waves.
    • Outcomes:
      • Earthquakes can cause severe damage, particularly in an area where homes and other buildings are poorly constructed and landslides are common.
    • Facts:
      • An earthquake’s point of initial rupture is called its hypocenter or focus
      • The epicentre is the point at ground level directly above the hypocenter.
      • It is measured in the Richter scale.
    • India’s Vulnerability:
      • Earthquakes are a prominent danger in India’s disaster profile which has caused huge loss of life and material.
      • India has seen some of the greatest earthquakes in the last century.
      • Nearly 58 percent of the Indian landmass is vulnerable to earthquakes.
      • Frequent tremors:
        • In recent period earthquakes in different parts of India, albeit of small magnitudes, have occurred. Few experts warn that frequent tremors were a matter of concern in the subcontinent, where several areas are prone to major seismic activities.
        • Whereas, acccording to others, India is witnessing micro tremors regularly which, in turn, is helping release tectonic stress and offering protection from the possibility of a devastating event.

    India’s earthquake preparedness

    • Seismic Zones:
      • Earthquake-prone areas of India have been identified on the basis of 3 factors, namely
        • Scientific inputs related to seismicity.
        • Earthquakes occurred in the past.
        • Tectonic setup of the region.
      • Based on these conditions, the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) divided the country into four seismic zones, viz. Zone II, Zone III, Zone IV and Zone V.

    • India’s policy on earthquake preparedness: 
      • Currently, India’s policy on earthquake preparedness operates primarily at the scale of structural details. 
      • Guided by the National Building Codes, this includes specifying dimensions of the structural members — columns, beams, etc. — and details of the reinforcements that join these elements together. 
      • While scientifically sound, this view on earthquake preparedness is criticised for being myopic.
    • National Seismic Risk Mitigation Programme (NSRMP):
      • It is aimed at reducing the vulnerability of communities and their assets to natural disaster by taking appropriate mitigation measures and to strengthen the capacity of national and state entities to effectively plan for and respond to earthquakes.
    • Delhi High Court’s recent action:
      • Recently Delhi High Court has asked the state government to file a status report and action plan on the structural safety of buildings in Delhi.

    Issues & Challenges

    • Shortcomings of India’s policy on earthquake preparedness:
      • The policy ignores the buildings that were constructed before such codes were published in 1962
        • Such buildings form a large part of our cities. 
      • Itt assumes infallibility in the processes of enforcement — relying only on penalisation and illegalities
      • It treats earthquakes as a problem of individual buildings considering that they exist and behave in complete isolation from their urban context.
        • The truth is that buildings exist in clusters and in the event of an earthquake, behave as a system. 
        • They collapse on nearby buildings and on the abutting streets — damaging buildings that might have otherwise survived and blocking evacuation routes. 

    Suggestions & way ahead

    • Earthquake preparedness needs to act at the scale of building details and cities
      • Cities:
        • At the scale of cities, the problem is more complex, massive, and unattended. 
          • None of the urban renewal programmes — including the latest Smart Cities Mission — have devised an urban policy for earthquake preparedness.
      • Bulding details:
        • At the scale of building details, we need to create a system of retrofitting existing structures and enforcing seismic codes with more efficiency.
    • Need of a policy:
      • We must look at Earthquake preparedness in the realm of policy and not just as legal enforcement. Such a policy should include two measures:
        • First, to create a system of tax-based or development rights-based incentives for retrofitting one’s building up to seismic codes. 
          • Such a system of incentives will enable the growth of an industry around retrofitting and will generate a body of well-trained professionals and competent organisations. 
        • Second, by ensuring better enforcement of seismic codes through a similar model. 
          • A step forward in this direction was the National Retrofitting Programme launched in 2014. 
          • Under the programme, the Reserve Bank of India directed banks to deny loans for any building activity that does not meet the standards of earthquake-resistant design. 
    • Urban-level policy:
      • An urban-level policy should start with surveys and audits that can generate earthquake vulnerability maps showing parts of the city that are more prone to serious damage.  
      • This should follow following criteria:
        • The percentage of vulnerable structures in the area; 
        • The availability of evacuation routes and distances from the nearest open ground; 
        • Density of the urban fabric; and 
        • Location of nearest relief services and the efficiency with which these services can reach affected sites. 
      • Using such maps, enforcement, incentives, and response centres can be proportionally distributed across the urban terrain.
    • Utilizing Urban platforms:
      • Programmes like the ongoing Urban 20 meetings are an excellent opportunity for international knowledge exchange on earthquake preparedness.

    Global examples

    • Cases like that of Japan and San Francisco are good examples of their Earthquake Preparedness. 
      • Japan:
        • Japan has invested heavily in technological measures to mitigate the damage from the frequent earthquakes that it experiences. 
        • Skyscrapers are built with counterweights and other high-tech provisions to minimise the impact of tremors. 
        • Small houses are built on flexible foundations and public infrastructure is integrated with automated triggers that cut power, gas, and water lines during earthquakes. 
      • San Francisco:
        • Another of the world’s famous earthquake-prone cities San Francisco was devastated by an earthquake in April 1906. 
          • The city saw more than 3,000 deaths and massive destruction of property. 
        • Following the disaster, San Francisco implemented policy changes similar to Japan’s and when the next major earthquake hit in 1989, the city recorded just 63 casualties.


    Daily Mains Question

    [Q] A policy on earthquake preparedness will require a visionary, radical and transformative approach. Analyse