Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Seismic Zones

In Italy, seismologists are being prosecuted on charges of manslaughter for their failure to predict an earthquake. The victims' families are suing for compensation to the tune of USD 68 million. While it is not ethically and legally tenable to suggest that the failure of a scientific prediction is equivalent to 'crime', the matter of seismic investigation and its translation into policy needs a closer look.

In India, there are identified seismic zones with stipulated building regulations, but as anyone who lives in any of these areas would know, and Assam is certainly a tectonic zone, building regulations are esoteric notions and information on general enforcement is scarce. In addition to this, some, and at least two, of the biggest earthquakes in the last decade took place in unidentified areas (in Maharashtra). Now, as I read in today's paper, the Bureau of Indian Standards has constituted a new expert committee to study and identify seismic zones all over again, at the same time as the National Disaster Management Authority's formation of a similar committee with the same brief. According to reports, their assessments seem to diverge to a great extent.

The moot question is whether the country is ready for disasters of a large magnitude. Something as devastating as the 2005 Kashmir earthquake will cripple life and infrastructure for a decade at least.

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