The recent earthquake in Morocco, registering a magnitude of 6.8, has unfolded before us an unprecedented tragedy and devastation. As we bear witness to the grim toll of over a thousand lives lost and more than a thousand injured, it is imperative for us, the inhabitants of Jammu and Kashmir, to pause and reflect on our own vulnerability to seismic events. Nestled in an area highly susceptible to earthquakes, Jammu and Kashmir must glean crucial lessons from the recent Moroccan experience and proactively institute measures to safeguard our communities, infrastructure, and lives.
Morocco's Earthquake Tragedy
On the fateful night of 8-9 September, Morocco bore the brunt of a powerful earthquake that left a trail of destruction in its wake. This seismic event, registering a magnitude of 6.8 on the Richter scale, struck near the town of Ighil in Al Haouz Province, situated approximately 70 km southwest of Marrakesh. Its impact reverberated across numerous Moroccan cities, including Rabat and Casablanca.
The aftermath of this earthquake was nothing short of catastrophic. Reports painted a grim picture of numerous houses collapsing in cities like Taroudant and Marrakesh. Even Marrakesh, a city steeped in historical significance and cultural heritage, witnessed considerable damage to its architectural treasures. Fearing further destruction from potential aftershocks, anxious residents spent the night outdoors.
One resident in Ouarzazate, a city about 190 km southeast of Marrakesh, underscored the unprecedented power of this earthquake: "Earthquakes have occurred before, but none matched the ferocity of this one," they lamented. The tragedy unfolded with a rising death toll of 1,037 and at least 1,204 individuals reported injured.
Jammu and Kashmir's Vulnerability to Earthquakes:
Our own region, Jammu and Kashmir, shares a parallel susceptibility to earthquakes, given its location within a seismically active zone. The state falls within seismic zones IV and V, classified as very high and high damage risk zones, respectively. The primary seismic drivers in our region include the Himalayan Frontal Thrust (HFT), the Main Boundary Thrust (MBT), and the Zanskar Thrust.
The HFT demarcates the boundary between the Indian plate and the Tibetan plate, while the MBT signifies the boundary between the Indian plate and the Eurasian plate. In addition, the Zanskar Thrust, a secondary fault, runs parallel to the MBT. Earthquakes in Jammu and Kashmir predominantly stem from the movements of these tectonic plates.
The HFT's gradual northward movement at a rate of approximately 4 centimetres per year, alongside the MBT's northward shift at about 1.5 centimetres per year, leads to stress accumulation along fault lines. When this stress is released, earthquakes occur. A notable example is the significant earthquake that rocked the Doda district on December 5, 2021, registering a magnitude of 5.4 on the Richter scale and causing substantial damage.
Steps Taken by the Government of Jammu and Kashmir:
Recognizing the inherent earthquake risk, the government of Jammu and Kashmir has embarked on several measures to mitigate the impact of seismic events:
· Construction of Earthquake-Resistant Structures: A pivotal initiative involves the construction of earthquake-resistant buildings designed to withstand seismic forces, thus reducing the risk of structural collapse during an earthquake.
· Development of Early Warning Systems: The government has also invested in developing early warning systems capable of providing advance notice of impending earthquakes. These systems hold the potential to save lives by affording people time to seek safety before the tremors strike.
· Public Awareness on Earthquake Safety: Essential to these efforts is public education on earthquake safety. Awareness campaigns and educational programs aim to inform residents about the appropriate actions to take during an earthquake and how to prepare for one.
· Emergency Preparedness: The stockpiling of critical supplies such as food, water, and medical provisions stands as a vital component of post-earthquake readiness. Preparedness can significantly impact the immediate aftermath of a seismic event.
Challenges and Ongoing Actions:
While these endeavours are laudable, there remains a substantial journey ahead in terms of earthquake preparedness and risk reduction in Jammu and Kashmir. The following additional steps warrant consideration:
· Enhanced Building Codes and Rigorous Enforcement: The government should bolster building codes and enforce them rigorously to ensure that new constructions are earthquake-resistant. Existing structures should also undergo retrofitting when necessary.
· Community Engagement: Engaging local communities is indispensable. Raising awareness about the risks they face and educating them on protective measures during earthquakes is paramount.
· Sustained Maintenance of Early Warning Systems: Regular maintenance and testing of early warning systems are critical to ensuring their effectiveness when required.
· Disaster Preparedness Drills: Conducting periodic earthquake drills in schools, workplaces, and communities can help individuals acquaint themselves with safety protocols and evacuation plans.
· Infrastructure Resilience: Critical infrastructure, including hospitals and emergency response facilities, should be fortified or retrofitted to withstand earthquakes, guaranteeing the continuity of essential services post-seismic events.
Morocco's recent earthquake tragedy serves as an unambiguous reminder of the colossal destructive potential of seismic events. As residents of Jammu and Kashmir, we cannot afford to wait for a similar catastrophe to befall our region. Instead, we must proactively assimilate insights from Morocco's experience and institute measures to curtail earthquake risks within our state.
Given our geographical location in seismically active zones and the ceaseless movements of tectonic plates, the spectre of earthquakes looms ever large.
By enforcing stringent building codes, fostering public awareness, maintaining early warning systems, and cultivating a culture of preparedness, we can mitigate the loss of life and property during seismic events.
The mantle of responsibility does not rest solely on the government; it encompasses each one of us. Together, we can forge a safer and more resilient Jammu and Kashmir, where our communities are better equipped to withstand the tremors of nature and emerge stronger in the face of adversity.
Our collective efforts will ultimately determine our capacity to diminish the impact of future earthquakes and safeguard the lives of our fellow residents.