38 Indian Cities In High-Risk Seismic Zones: Where do You Stay?

38 Indian Cities In High-Risk Seismic Zones: Report

4 min read
<em>A collapsed building in Kathmandu, Nepal after an earthquake hit the region on April 25, 2015.</em>

At least 38 Indian cities lie in high-risk seismic zones; nearly 60% of the subcontinental landmass is vulnerable to earthquakes and except for rare exceptions—such as the Delhi Metro—India’s hastily-built infrastructure in most cities is open to damage from earthquakes.

The Nepal earthquake also jolted northern India, damaging buildings as far apart as Agra and Siliguri. Geologists warn of more such quakes the Indian subcontinent grinds against the Asian landmass.

38 Indian Cities In High-Risk Seismic Zones: Where do You Stay?

Delhi Metro is Prepared, Not Much Else

Very few buildings in India meet the standards prescribed in ‘Indian Standard Criteria for Earthquake Resistant Design’, first published by the Bureau of Indian Standards in 1962, the latest revision being in 2005. These are not enforced, so almost no one knows suchearthquake-resistant standards and guidelines for home-owners, exist.

The Delhi Metro is one of the few Indian structures built to withstand a quake. Many of the houses built in Bhuj after the Gujarat quake of 2001 are now earthquake-resistant. The rare building and high-rise may be designed for quakes.

But nothing has changed since 1993, when a relatively mild earthquake of magnitude 6.4 in Maharashtra’s Latur district killed nearly 10,000 people, in what was considered a non-seismic zone. Most died because shoddily constructed houses collapsed at the first major shake, as they did in Gujarat eight years later.

The government of India today lists 38 cities in moderate to high-risk seismic zones. “Typically, the majority of the constructions in these cities are not earthquake-resistant,” notes a 2006 report written by the United Nations for the ministry of home affairs. “Therefore in the event of an earthquake, one of these cities would become a major disaster.”

Why North India is Quake Prone

The Himalayas and north India are on particularly shaky ground. Sometime in the geological past, before humans, India broke off from an ancient supercontinent called Gondwana, a name still used for what is now Chhattisgarh.

38 Indian Cities In High-Risk Seismic Zones: Where do You Stay?

The Indian plate skewed north, displaced an ancient sea, travelled more than 2,000 km – the fastest a plate has ever moved – and slammed into the Eurasian plate, creating the Himalayas, where you can still find sea shells.

India still grinds northeast into Asia at roughly 5 cm every year. The last significant – but not geologically significant – quake in this area was the 2005 temblor in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, which sits directly atop the clashing Indian and Eurasian plates. About 80,000 died. About 60% of India is vulnerable to earthquakes caused by the great, northward grind of the Indian subcontinental landmass.

<em>Image Credit: <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:India_earthquake_zone_map_en.svg">Wikimedia/Arun Ganesh</a></em>
Image Credit: Wikimedia/Arun Ganesh
<em>Source: <a href="">Lok Sabha</a>; Note:Modified Mercalli intensity measures the impact of earthquakes on the surface of the earth.</em>
Source: Lok Sabha; Note:Modified Mercalli intensity measures the impact of earthquakes on the surface of the earth.

No Indian City Hit Yet, But History Has Served Warning

No Indian metropolis has witnessed a serious earthquake, although Delhi lies in high-risk seismic zone 4. Srinagar and Guwahati are in the highest-risk zone 5; Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata lie in zone 3.

History serves warning that a big one may come at any time. Those lessons come from Bihar in 1934 and Assam in 1950.

Although its epicentre was 10 km south of Mount Everest, the Bihar earthquake of 1934 was felt from Mumbai to Lhasa, flattening almost all major buildings in many Bihar districts and damaging many in Calcutta. At 8.4 on the Richter scale, it was pretty severe, killing more than 8,100 (Mahatma Gandhi said it was punishment for the sin of untouchability).

The 1950 Assam earthquake, may have geologically set the stage for a really big one in the Himalayas, according to geologists. Now that 65 years have passed, it may be time for a big one.

“India has had five moderate earthquakes (Richter Magnitudes ~6.0-6.4) since 1988 as reminders to improve the earthquake preparedness of the country. Among the serious earthquakes that modern India remembers is the temblor that killed about 20,000 in Gujarat in 2001. Also Latur and Chamoli.

“The world seismic community has taken advantage of the experiences from these events, but we in India have paid no heed to these reminders. Today, the number of persons interested in improving the earthquake preparedness in the country is effectively very small. Moreover, most of these persons are in the academia,” a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology (Kanpur), wrote in 2000.

(You can check the Indian Meteorological Department’s website for the latest earthquake reports.)

(IndiaSpend is a non-profit, a data-driven, public-interest journalism site)

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