TODAY -

The 4 January Earthquake
(A Wakeup Call For Manipur)

S. Kunjabihari Singh *

Manipur Earthquake : Aftermath as seen at Saikhul Bazaar, Sadar Hills :: January 4 2016
Manipur Earthquake : Aftermath as seen at Saikhul Bazaar, Sadar Hills on January 4 2016 :: Pix - Shankar Khangembam



This pre-dawn earthquake on 04 January, 2015, 4.35 am to be precise, barely a week back, in our state Manipur, is reported to be measuring 6.7 on the Richter scale. Most were still in the comfort of the morning slumber only to be shaken awake with that terrifying jolt most of the people had not experienced for decades.

It is considered as moderately big in terms of seismological terminologies. The epicenter is reported to be at Noney a nondescript hill town hardly 30 km. from Imphal as the crow flies. This nearness of the epicenter explains the intensity of the tremor. It rocked the entire north east as also parts of north east states.

We lost 8 precious lives, over 100 were injured apart from damages often serious to houses in their thousands and a variety of properties. Had Manipur’s density of population was higher, the casualties could have been much more. And yet, this temblor is rated as the worst in a long span of 65 years in the state’s history, after a similarly violent tremor in 1950.

Manipur as part of the greater NE Region and one part of Gujarat, Bhuj, falls under Seismic Zone V, the highest-risk-zone of earthquake. Around 59% of India’s land mass is exposed to all forms of varying intensity of earthquakes. The US Geographical Survey which monitors and surveys worldwide, reports, “the earthquake near Imphal occurred as a result of strike slip faulting or a tectonic fault in the complex plate boundary region between India and the Eurasia plate in southeast Asia”.

The sad reality is that such earthquakes, may be stronger even, could strike anytime again in this part of the universe; the stark reality and danger, again is the unpredictability of when it could occur and how intensive it could be. Experts claim that in this region, indeed earthquakes do strike almost daily only differing on the intensity and magnitude. Most occur unnoticed; only the severe ones like this one are felt. And Manipur in particular, lies precisely within this ‘most prone zone’. Anytime unannounced, even more severe than this one could occur. How do then we prepare for the worst, is the issue.

According to the MHA’s disaster management organization, a much bigger catastrophe where earthquakes measuring 8.2 or greater could emerge in the already ruptured Himalayan region. According to them the tectonic shift resulting to a series of recent quakes in the region like, the one in Manipur, 6.7 (2016), Nepal, 7.3 (2015), Sikkim, 6.9 (2011) has again ruptured the plates that had already developed cracks during the previous temblors. This conditioning has led to a situation more prone to multiple earthquakes with a magnitude of up to 8.0 or more.

They talk about a ‘ring of fire garlanding the entire north India especially the mountainous region’. This critical issue was also highlighted in the Itanagar conclave on ‘Sustainable Development of Mountain States’, where 11 hill states of the region deliberated upon the emerging threat scenario. In the event of the nonexistence of any combat measure to stall such a catastrophe, the only plausible resolution was to develop a common building code for mountainous states like ours.

In addition, disaster-preparedness on the face of such a likely event would go a long way in minimizing casualties. The preparedness is again a relative term often missing the focus of the people; and this is where the calamity would grab its hold in full.

The observation of Santosh Kumar, the Director of the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) would be not only informative but also could be absorbed as a warning call. He observed, “the interconnected plates across Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and India pose a bigger danger and predicted a disaster of bigger magnitude that awaits hill states and parts of Bihar, UP, Delhi which fall under the second worst seismic classification, Zone IV”.

And mind you, the North east and other hill states fall under severe seismic Zone V. Some international experts prominently Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado opined that seismologists are of the opinion that the current conditions might trigger at least 4 earthquakes greater than 8.0 in magnitude. And in the event of delay in the development, the strain accumulated during the centuries could provoke more catastrophic mega-earthquakes.

The worse news could be that reportedly stress has increased in the mountains of the north east since the Nepal earthquake. The reading is that this Monday’s earthquake on the 4th January in Manipur shows that the developed ‘stress’ has not been fully released, has only become worse. They thus conclude, “The collision between the Himalayan plate in the north and the Indo-Burmese plate in the east, and the risk created as a result, is the highest at this moment of time”.

The MHA’s own assessment that the regulatory mechanism in these risk-prone states is weak and therefore any disaster in any one of these states could cause severe casualties. Such is the situation which could only be categorized as ‘precarious’, nothing more, nothing less.

Seismologists across the world have been predicting a major tremor along the 400 kilometer fault line under the Himalayas. The last year’s Nepal earthquake measuring 7.8 magnitude on the Richter scale fell just short of the predicted magnitude of 8.0 or more and could still be read as to be around the corner. In the post- Nepal earthquake, the Ministry of Home Affair’s National Institute of Disaster Management had warned of enhanced risk around the ‘ring of fire’ encompassing the entire north India.

This region is reportedly facing a huge tectonic stress with an increasing number of jolts reaching the Gregorian level of 8.0 or even more in store anytime in the future. This unpredictability of an intensive quake surpassing 7.0 magnitude, this uncertainty of the emergence of a tremor, anytime, any moment, in the day, is spine-chilling to think of.

This jolt out of the blue at a time when people were feeling the pleasure and the luxury of the new year has to be taken seriously in all its ramifications. The after-shocks which normally succeed such a major quake is yet to emerge and one never is sure if they are not lying in wait. Already the damage caused, however small, in respect of the houses left untouched, though in some cases serious damages have been caused, are prone to more serious casualties. We have to prepare to face this unforeseen or even inevitable danger in the days to come. Prayers and playing conch shells alone would not be of much help. The reality could be really serious.

Old timers’ memory of the 1950 quake measuring 8.7 on the Richter scale in Assam can only be described as horrific; it killed 2500 people alone in the state and is a grim reminder of the trail of devastation so complete in all its format. Added to that the spine-chilling memory is that of chain of after-shocks running into days for over a week in a city already devastated in the cruelest manner. The devastation was so complete that the mighty Brahmaputra is said to have changed its course at stretches.

History stands witness how the 1950 earthquake chocked completely the Nanoi river, a tributary of the Brahmaputra. People saw in utter amazement how the river disappeared in front of their own eyes as huge lumps of earth came tumbling down into the river by the violent shaking; the river completely buried in a few moments.

Arrival of highly trained disaster response team from Delhi or the existence of the Office of the State Disaster Relief Management would be secondary line of action profile; the people themselves only are the ones to come forward, to act instantaneously in a more organized manner. The recent spate of training and exposure programmes highlighting guidelines to be followed were not, repeat, not of much use.

Many reportedly jumped down from first floor buildings, nor could the State Disaster Response Force could be of much help. The simple reason being, those who man the Response Team themselves are victims of this natural calamity. Who then is to be responsible? Only we are, not others.


* S. Kunjabihari Singh wrote this article for e-pao.net
The article was originally written on Tuesday, 12 January 2016 and the writer can be reached at kunjabiharis(aT)rediffmail(doT)com
This article was posted on Janaury 22, 2016.


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