Experts blame government neglect for higher losses in ‘moderate’ Jajarkot earthquakeHad we worked towards improving the buildings by learning from past earthquakes, the extent of loss could have been reduced, says seismologist.
At least 157 people died and hundreds were injured in Friday's earthquake that hit Jajarkot and West Rukum districts in western Nepal. As per preliminary assessment 3,900 houses either have been completely destroyed or damaged.
As the search and rescue operation continues, it is certain that there will be an increase in the tally of both human and property losses. Entire Nepal including the western belt is highly prone to earthquakes. Seismologists have long been warning that the western region could be hit by earthquakes of higher intensity any time.
For the last few years, earthquakes of lower intensity have frequently been hitting the hill districts in the Sudurpaschim and Karnali provinces. At least six people had lost their lives in an earthquake measuring magnitude 6.6. While several others got injured, they also lost their cattle and residences to the disaster. Just last month, on October 4, dozens of people were injured and several houses were destroyed in a magnitude 6.3 earthquake in Bajura district. A woman had lost her life while 25 others were injured in a separate earthquake in January in the same district.
Seismologists say like the previous earthquakes in Doti and Bajura, Friday’s earthquake is also not a strong one. “It is a moderately strong quake,” Lok Bijaya Adhikari, senior divisional seismologist at the National Earthquake Measurement and Research Centre, told the Post.
Yet, it caused a huge loss of lives of properties. It is because the government was not prepared. Man Thapa, an expert on disaster management who has worked in several countries in South Asia and other parts of the world, said the recent earthquakes in western Nepal including Jajarkot are a warning signal for a strong earthquake. “Several earthquakes have struck western Nepal recently. Earthquakes don’t kill, poor infrastructures do,” he said. “Had we worked towards improving the buildings by learning from past earthquakes, the extent of loss could have been reduced.”
Thapa believes the recent Jajarkot earthquake could also be a warning call for a mega earthquake. While it is not possible to predict an earthquake, by looking at historical patterns, scientists can say that a particular area may witness tremors within a certain timeframe.
As it has already been over 500 years since the last mega earthquake in the western Nepal, there are presumptions that the region can get one in the near future. Hari Darshan Shrestha, professor at Institute of Engineering, Tribhuvan University, said the recent back to back earthquakes could be hinting at an upcoming mega disaster.
“There is a possibility of pre-shocks before the mega earthquake,” Shrestha told the Post. “What I think is that the Jajarkot and the previous quakes in the west are pre-shocks. We are waiting for a mega disaster. It is just a matter of when.”
Shrestha, who has a long experience in disaster management, says together with the response in the earthquake-hit regions, the government should also focus on preparedness.
Most of the houses in the western hilly and mountain regions are constructed out of mud and stone and are not earthquake resistant. “One of the easy techniques to make such houses resilient is to bind them with gabion wires,” Shrestha said. “This can significantly reduce the loss of lives in case of a disaster in the future.”
Experts on disaster management say Nepal has very good policies on disaster management and preparedness. “However, they have been left unimplemented,” Thapa said. “Which is why we face huge losses at the time of disaster.”