Nepal earthquake’s consequences ‘man-made’
Experts were trying to figure out ways to help people in Nepal to prepare for the expected quake which claimed at least 1,910 lives
Experts knew about Nepal’s devastating earthquake, which killed nearly 2,000 people, the Associated Press reported.
On Saturday, a Nepal police official sid at least 1,910 people have been killed, including at least 721 in Kathmandu.
However, just a week ago, about 50 earthquake and social scientists from around the world came to Kathmandu, Nepal, to figure out how to get this poor, congested, overdeveloped, shoddily built area to prepare better for the big one, a repeat of the 1934 temblor that leveled this city. They knew they were racing the clock, but they didn’t know when what they feared would strike.
“It was sort of a nightmare waiting to happen,” seismologist James Jackson, head of the earth sciences department at the University of Cambridge in England, told the Associated Press. “Physically and geologically what happened is exactly what we thought would happen.”
But he didn’t expect the massive quake that struck Saturday to happen so soon.
“I was walking through that very area where that earthquake was and I thought at the very time that the area was heading for trouble,” said Jackson, lead scientist for Earthquakes Without Frontiers, a group that tries to make Asia more able to bounce back from these disasters and was having the meeting.
A Kathmandu earthquake has long been feared, not just because of the natural seismic fault, but because of the local, more human conditions that make it worse.
While the trigger of the disaster is natural - an earthquake – “the consequences are very much man-made,” Jackson said. Except for landslides, which in this case are a serious problem, “it’s buildings that kill people not earthquakes,” Jackson said. If you lived in a flat desert with no water, an earthquake wouldn’t harm you, but then few people want to live there.
“The real problem in Asia is how people have concentrated in dangerous places,” Jackson said.
Kathmandu was warned, first by the Earth itself: this is the fifth significant quake there in the last 205 years, including the massive 1934 one.
“They knew they had a problem but it was so large they didn’t where to start, how to start,” said Hari Ghi, southeast Asia regional coordinator for Geohazards International, a group that works on worldwide quake risks. Ghi, Jackson and Wald said Nepal was making progress on reducing its vulnerability to earthquakes, but not quickly or big enough.
Ghi’s group on April 12 updated a late 1990s report summarizing the Kathmandu Valley risks.
“With an annual population growth rate of 6.5 percent and one of the highest urban densities in the world, the 1.5 million people living in the Kathmandu Valley were clearly facing a serious and growing earthquake risk,” the report said, laying out “the problem” the valley faces. “It was also clear that the next large earthquake to strike near the Valley would cause significantly greater loss of life, structural damage, and economic hardship than past earthquakes had inflicted.”
And for years there were no building codes and rampant development so homes and other structures could be built without any regards to earthquakes, the report said. There are now building codes, but that doesn’t help the older structures, and the codes aren't overly strong, Ghi said.
(With Associated Press)