Is Delhi earthquake ready?

The national capital of India is in an earthquake prone region and the city’s preparedness for disaster needs serious attention. Earthquakes like in Bhuj that rocked Gujarat in 2001, ‘Gorakha’ earthquake which shocked Nepal in 2015 are evident enough for the government of Delhi to pull up its socks and strictly monitor the implementation of various guidelines and instructions on earthquake resilience

The Indian subcontinent is divided into four seismic zones – zone 2, zone 3, zone 4 and zone 5. Delhi is situated on top of few active seismic fault lines lying in the sensitive seismic zone 4 region. Fault lines are fractures on the Earth’s crust marking the edges of tectonic plates, regions lying nearby such lines are prone to earthquakes which occurs due to friction in these plates. Mahendragarh fault line, Moradabad fault line, Delhi-Haridwar ridge zone, and Sohna fault line are the closest from the capital.
The threat of quake for the capital is not only because it lies in the zone 4 region, but is even more as it lies adjacent to zone 5 – the Himalayan region which is even more sensitive to seismic disturbances. Therefore, earthquakes of magnitude 7 or above can easily occur in the zone 5 region which can lead the impact of the quake significantly affecting zone 4 regions.

Delhi’s preparedness for earthquakes in question
The Delhi government in 2005 approved the US-aid project for retrofitting buildings and heritage sites as a preventive measure for earthquakes, but the Common Wealth Games were announced and the attention of the authorities turned entirely in a different direction leaving the project incomplete.
Just like any other city Delhi too have guidelines mentioned in the city’s building byelaws regarding structural safety, also Indian Standard (IS) Code of National Building Code (NBC) details out construction of earthquake resistant buildings. But, a harsh truth from the experts’ observations reveals that if a severe earthquake hits the capital, 80 per cent of the buildings will not be able to withstand the calamity. The statement seems to reflect the ground reality of the city as majority of buildings constructed do not comply with the norms.
As per a study released by Assocham in 2016, Delhi NCR have the residential segment constituted three-fourth of the total high-risk stock and falls under the high damage risk zone. With government decisions to allow floor area ratio of 400 per cent in the transit routes in Delhi, there will be surge of 40 story and higher buildings in the city similar to high rise buildings coming up in Noida and Greater Noida which further enhances the chances of destruction and loss.
The report brings forward some of critical areas which need immediate attention:

  • To spread awareness on earthquakes and mitigation measures in public through campaigns, print and digital media platforms.
  • To make people understand about the structural mitigation measures.
  • To implement penalties for non-compliance of guidelines issued by regulatory bodies and national building codes.
  • To strictly work on the qualitative output from the workforce, especially structural engineers which are responsible for earthquake resistance of buildings.
  • To come up with schemes and subsidies for people and organisations for introducing latest technological solutions or measures to implement seismic upgrades making buildings more earthquake resistant.
  • To provide proper formal training to professionals working for earthquake resistant construction practices.

Japan: A country to learn from
As a country that witness earthquakes on a more frequent note than other countries, Japan has developed effective measures for disaster management in a holistic manner.
It has installed hundreds of seismometers throughout the country, which senses the shockwaves early and raises an emergency alarm in personal phones of every citizen and buy few extra minutes for the country to bring its transportation at halt and evacuate buildings. Ion Japan, not only schools but local fire departments also take up groups of students and expose them to earthquake simulation machines making them aware about the actual scenario. The island country also uses various construction measures to make buildings earthquake proof with deep foundation and massive shock absorbers to weaken the spread of seismic energy, base of the building is constructed in a manner that it moves semi-independently which in turn reduces shaking of the main building, and so on.
India must look forward to a country like Japan to improve the existing guidelines and measures followed. The government of Delhi should put in efforts to implement the NDMA guidelines effectively and enhance the disaster management of the city. Investing in private or government firms with potential to bring up technological precautionary measures to empower the disaster response of the city can be an effective way for better resilience. More than 2.5 crore people residing in the city are at risk having their lives on edge with a natural calamity that can neither be prevented nor can be estimated with assurance, the most we can do is be prepared.

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