Monday, February 8, 2010

Earthquake Fears in India and Pakistan

The recent 7.0 earthquake that caused over 200,000 deaths in Haiti has revived discussion of potential loss of life from seismic activity in many cities in the developing world, including the South Asian capitals of Islamabad, Kathmandu and New Delhi, all located close to the South Asian fault lines.

GeoHazards International, a Palo Alto, Calif. nonprofit research organization aiming to reduce suffering due to natural disasters, predicts that a 6.0 earthquake on the Richter scale would cause tens of thousands of deaths in major cities in the developing world. Here is GeoHazards' list of top 10 major cities and their expected minimum death tolls in the developing world which are most vulnerable to major earthquakes of 6.0 (or higher) intensity:

1. Kathmandu, Nepal 69,000
2. Istanbul, Turkey 55,000
3. Delhi, India 38,000
4. Quito, Ecuador 15,000
5. Manila, Philippines 13,000
6. Islamabad/Rawalpindi, Pakistan 12,500
7. San Salvador, El Salvador 11,500
7. Mexico City, Mexico 11,500
7. Izmir, Turkey 11,500
10. Jakarta, Indonesia 11,000

San Francisco in 1989 and Haiti this year were hit by earthquakes of equal intensity of 7.0 on Richter scale; yet SF suffered only 63 deaths while the Haiti tremor has claimed over 200,000 lives.

A lower intensity 6.0 earthquake would also cause potential deaths and damage in cities like Los Angeles and Tokyo, but the much higher death toll and greater degree of destruction anticipated in developing nations has more to do with corruption, economics and engineering than geology.

The magnitude 7.6 quake that struck Kashmir and the North West Frontier regions of Pakistan in October 2005 killed over 70,000 people, many in remote parts of the country, not as dense as urban centers like Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The mountainous terrain made it specially difficult to provide disaster relief and contributed to greater casualties.

In Kashmir's 7.6 earthquake, as also in the tremor of slightly higher intensity in 2008 in China that claimed about 70,000 lives each, most of the casualties occurred in collapsed government buildings like thousands of public schools, claiming a disproportionate number of children's lives. The earthquakes in China and Pakistan exacted an outsize toll on schoolchildren, as a large number of crowded schools pancaked into rubble, while better built private buildings next to the public school buildings stood almost undamaged. In sharp contrast to the China and Pakistan, California authorities have closely monitored the construction of schools since a 1933 earthquake in Long Beach killed more than 100 people, many struck by falling debris as they ran out of shaking buildings.

Unfortunately, the construction industry is considered to be the most corrupt of all industries by Transparency International, and the developing nations whose cities show up on the most vulnerable list also figure prominently among the most corrupt nations in surveys conducted by the same organization. Even in places where new building codes exist to minimize potential quake deaths and damage, proper enforcement is absent because of widespread corruption.

As to the cost of building to withstand seismic activity, Dr. Brian Tucker of Geo Hazards believes that schools, hospitals and crucial buildings like the U.N. mission that collapsed in Haiti can be reinforced to withstand quakes by adding just 4% more to the cost of construction--something he urges foreign donors to keep in mind while giving aid. "It's not God that's doing this," Tucker recently told Forbes magazine. "It's men who are not building correctly."

Speaking at a World Affairs Council meeting in San Francisco, Tucker recently talked about his work with The Academy of Sciences in Pakistan to set up remote training of people involved in building construction. Tucker also mentioned Geo Hazards' work with communities in Nepal to retrofit schools to withstand earthquakes. They went door to door to explain to parents what can be done, provided partial funding and training to masons, and the masons then helped reinforce schools and offer services to community members to retrofit or build many earthquake-resistant homes in Kathmandu. Part of the masons' training involved showing them how the slow, wet curing of concrete makes a big difference in its ability to withstand forces created during earthquakes. Proper slow curing of concrete is necessary but not sufficient. Concrete is a material that is very strong in compression, but relatively weak in tension. To compensate for this imbalance in concrete's behavior, rebar (reinforcing carbon steel bar) is cast into it to carry the tensile loads. In collapsed school structures in China and Pakistan, thin, bendable wire was the only evidence of rebar, the material that holds concrete structures together. Generally speaking, the less steel in a concrete building, the less strength it has to withstand movement.

Since the devastation caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that claimed 230,000 lives, the UN has led "Build Back Better" campaign around the world. As part of this effort, the task of rebuilding after disasters has been viewed as an opportunity to bring improved social services, clean water, and sturdier schools to the affected areas. Former US president Bill Clinton is advocating that the lessons learned from this campaign be utilized in Haiti.

As Haiti rebuilds, and organizations like Geo Hazards share their learning from their ongoing work in various earthquake prone nations, it is important for South Asians to pay attention to better prepare for future earthquakes.

Related Links:

Is Haiti Disaster Entirely Natural?

Rampant Corruption in Construction Industry

Bhutto Convicted in Switzerland

Build Back Better

Corruption in Pakistan

Infrastructure Corruption in India

Infrastructure Corruption in Pakistan

Transparency International Survey 2007

Is Siemens Guilty?

Fluor's Anti-Corruption Initiative

Zardari Corruption Probe

Construction, Corruption and Developing Countries


Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excerpts from a New York Times story about potentially disastrous quakes that could hit developing world, including Karachi in Pakistan:

"...The focus is great earthquakes that, without any doubt, will someday hammer great cities. The case study is Istanbul, but it could just as easily be Lima or Katmandu or Karachi or a host of other fast-growing urban centers in developing countries.

Istanbul is best known these days as a thriving commercial hub and tourist spot, but its record of devastating quakes is etched in centuries of artwork..."

"...As Dr. Bilham explains, the human pulse of population growth and urbanization has come largely in gaps between known megaquakes that have occurred cyclically in a great arc from the European ranges through the Himalayas and across the Pacific. (Joel Achenbach of the Washington Post has written a nice piece on the superimposition of big cities and fault zones.)

Combine the growth and poverty with greed and a lack of governance, he says, and you are building megadisasters.

“Buildings are being constructed right now Pakistan and Iran that are almost designed to kill their occupants when the earthquake comes, and it will,” Dr. Bilham told me...."

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an AFP report about the probability of a major earthquake in Karachi:

Legend has it that seven revered Islamic saints whose shrines are located across Karachi have for centuries protected the southwestern Pakistani city from disaster.

But after another deadly earthquake killed up to 300 people in Baluchistan last month, there are fears that the presence of the saints may not be enough to protect all the 14 million people who live here from death and destruction.

Deep beneath the bustling port city, the Indian, Arabian and Eurasian tectonic plates are in constant friction, with the potential to wreak havoc above.

As a result, seismologists say Karachi is as much at risk from earthquakes as Los Angeles.

But unlike the sprawling US west coast city, or other supercities lying on or near faultlines, Pakistan's business capital is ill-equipped to cope if disaster strikes, according to experts.

"The earthquakes in other parts of the country are warnings for us and we should take them seriously," Noman Ahmed, an architect associated with Karachi's NED University of Engineering and Technology, told AFP.

"We are not realising the danger we are surrounded by."

Once known for its suburban green spaces and tree-lined streets, Karachi is now a concrete jungle of haphazard settlements, sprawling upwards and outwards as far as the eye can see. More than half the population live in slums.

Ahmed estimates that virtually all of the city's 500,000 buildings are structurally unsound.

"Not more than five percent of our buildings are constructed by following the building rules. The rest are self-built by builders without taking any professional advice," he added.

"You can see negligible provisions for evacuation or accessibility in our buildings. There are no fire or hazard escapes in the majority of structures."

Civic leaders, including Karachi's deputy mayor, Nasreen Jalil, also admit that most of the city's buildings are not built to absord strong earthquake shocks and the public is unaware of the need to take precautions.

Although that follows a trend in the country as a whole, Ahmed said he also fears for the safety of other structures.

"Our bridges have no accessibility provisions. Most bridges have either completed their designated age or are bearing excessive load. They are dangerous because there is no building monitoring here," he said.

"We have underground water and electricity conduits and gas lines, which could expose extra dangers in the wake of a major disaster."

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an IRIN critique of recovery and reconstruction effort after Pakistan's 2005 quake:

ISLAMABAD, 13 May 2010 (IRIN) - The devastating 7.6 magnitude earthquake that struck northwestern Pakistan in October 2005 led to the establishment of a government body tasked with coordinating the emergency response, early recovery and reconstruction of homes and infrastructure in an area spanning 30,000sqkm of mountainous terrain.

The Earthquake Relief and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) has been credited with overseeing the biggest post-disaster reconstruction effort in history: Its owner-driven rural housing programme to rebuild some 435,000 homes in nine districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Pakistan-administered Kashmir has become a benchmark. [See “Building back better” in quake zone]

However, amid the chaotic scenes that inevitably followed such a large-scale and widely scattered disaster, it took some time for ERRA to formulate and implement its policies.

“[At the beginning] there wasn’t enough information in the field. There wasn’t enough capacity in the field and people were starting to build quickly before advice,” Maggie Stephenson, technical adviser at UN HABITAT, which was involved in designing ERRA’s housing programme from the outset, told IRIN.

Stephenson praised the Pakistan government’s overall response to the disaster, particularly the army, but noted that the current ERRA model for rural housing reconstruction took years to develop and was not without mistakes.

“There was only a very simple and single housing standard at the beginning and it really had to be widened and tested. There was extremely rigorous testing from the World Bank and others. Every local [construction] technique that now seems obvious had a lot of documentation, empirical testing and so on,” Stephenson said.

“We’re conscious that we wouldn’t want people to go through some of the things we went through. We want some of the hurdles also to be documented so that we can avoid them next time,” she added.

Kamran Shariff, humanitarian affairs officer for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that coming from “zero capacity” ERRA had done a “pretty good job” in harmonizing all the stakeholders involved in the disaster, but he also lamented the amount of time and money needed to arrive at best practices.

“In rural housing they have gone through lots and lots of trial and error. The initial houses that were made were based on inputs by consultants who had no idea of local needs. So they wasted a lot of time - and I’m sure money and effort - in coming up with a design that was cost-effective and earthquake-resistant as well. And they ended up re-inventing the wheel and coming up with a design very close to the traditional house designs of that area,” Shariff told IRIN.

“So it has taken lots and lots of time - nearly half a decade - and that has caused lots of frustration.”

Too many layers of bureaucracy

Another critique of the reconstruction effort has been that there were too many layers of bureaucracy and that “parallel structures” slowed the process down.

“What people in Pakistan are doing is to get the best of ERRA’s model and trying to replicate that without the complexity associated with the bureaucratic procedures. ERRA’s approach is considered too process-oriented, too time-consuming, too much bureaucracy. That’s the biggest hurdle in replicating ERRA’s model. [But] they are not able to do it in Pakistan - Baluchistan is one example,” Shariff said, referring to the October 2008 earthquake in this province.

“I was there coordinating the humanitarian response. There they [the government] just gave them the money. No standards, nothing. You could build a house or go spend the money,” he said.

Riaz Haq said...

Northern Pakistan hit by 6.2 quake on Sept 17, 2009, according to Pakistan's Dawn newspaper:

ISLAMABAD, Sept 17: High-intensity tremors jolted vast areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, Azad Kashmir and Islamabad a little before midnight on Friday, triggering panic among people.

According to seismic department, the magnitude of the quake was 6.3 on the Richter scale and its epicentre was somewhere in Hindukush mountains. The tremors lasted 14 to 15 seconds.

The tremors were felt in Gilgit, Chitral, Skardu, Abbottabad, Swat, Muzaffarabad, Mirpur, Mansehra, Peshawar, Kohat, Nowshera, Islamabad, Lahore, Faisalabad, Gujranwala and Sarai Alamgir.

No loss of life was reported from any part of the country.

Reports from India indicate tremors were felt in Indian occupied Kashmir and as far as Delhi.

Riaz Haq said...

A strong 7.2 earthquake struck southwestern Pakistan today, according to NPR News:

A strong, 7.2 magnitude earthquake just struck in southernwestern Pakistan, the U.S. Geological Survey reports. (Note at 4:14 p.m. ET: USGS just revised the magnitude; earlier it put it at 7.4.)

We'll pass on more information as it comes in. As you can see from this USGS map below, the epicenter is close to the border with Afghanistan (just to the north of the marker).

Update at 4:35 p.m. ET: According to the USGS' estimates, the earthquake occurred at a depth of about 52 miles — which, judging from USGS' definitions — would make it a fairly "deep" event.

Reuters says that "fears of major damage in the remote area eased when the U.S. agency revised an initial estimate that the quake was very shallow and said it probably centered at a depth of 52 miles [and happened] 34 miles west of Dalbandin, a town of about 15,000 people. It had earlier said the quake, at 1:23 a.m. local time on Wednesday ... had been at only about 6 miles depth and of a magnitude of 7.4."

Riaz Haq said...

DG Geological Survey says list of cities under threat has been handed over to respective district governments, according to The Express Tribune:

ISLAMABAD: The Director General of Pakistan Geological Survey, Dr Imran Ahmed Khan says an earthquake of a magnitude of 6.5 or higher might hit Pakistan this year, Express News reported on Monday.

Dr Khan, who was briefing the Standing Committee on Petroleum, said major cities of Pakistan were located on the fault line, which also crosses the centre of Margalla Hills.

The director general said the list of cities under threat has been handed over to the respective district governments.

He added that the government had been informed of the Attabad landslide four months before the incident happened.

He further that that climatic change is melting glaciers at a faster rate.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a PRI report on building collapse in Lahore, Pakistan:

A recent string of building collapses serve as a deadly reminder of the costs of not maintaining and inspecting aging infrastructure.

There have been a number of major building collapses in different parts of the world in recent weeks.

Lahore, Pakistan. Beirut, Lebanon. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Sao Paulo, Brazil

The building that collapsed in Lahore, Pakistan, killing more than 20 people, was a factory. An exploding boiler may be the cause.

The building that collapsed in Beirut killed at least 25 people. Cracks in the building made worse by heavy rain may have caused the collapse. Or perhaps its foundations were weakened by nearby construction.

In any case, for the professionals, a building collapse is one of the worst things that can happen.

Cameron Sinclair, one of the founders of the non-profit group Architecture for Humanity, said what’s scary is rarely the design of buildings, rather it’s how those designs are constructed.

“The quality of construction is diminishing greatly,” he said. “There was a time when we as architects would deal with a whole system of master craftsmen who would be working on the finer details of a building. Now it’s kind of like the McDonald's of building. It’s a lot of cookie-cutter, dropped-in solutions that are done to maximize profit locally.”

That may be true, but it doesn’t account for the building stock the world already has. The factory that collapsed in Pakistan was about 25 years old, and the Lebanese building dated from the 1920s.

In these cases it’s more a matter of upkeep and regulation.

For instance, one commentator suggested that, in Beirut, the fact that old laws keep some rents very low means landlords don’t spend money on standard safety inspections.

And it’s problems with enforcing the rules that Christopher Gaffney thinks are to blame for recent building collapses in Brazil. In Rio de Janeiro a 20-story building collapsed onto two smaller buildings, both of which also went down.

Gaffney is an architecture professor there, and he noted that Brazil has a long and proud tradition of structural engineering.

“So this was a bit of a surprise and it’s turn into a tourist attraction of sorts," Gaffney said. "But in terms of a shock at the falling apart of public infrastructure, people were not terribly surprised.”

Gaffney sees cracks not in Rio’s buildings so much as in the city’s civic infrastructure: no-one’s stepping up to take the blame.

“The mayor doesn’t want to take responsibility, the governor doesn’t want to take responsibility, the engineering firms don’t want to take it,” he said. “And so this is a concern of mine in general for the way that the World Cup is going to be run.”

That’s the soccer World Cup in 2014, a major event that’s only going to increase the stress on Rio de Janeiro. Rio’s problems are big and systemic, and Gaffney doesn’t see the city’s leaders tackling them.

“When you have a big event coming in, when you have these gross failures of public administration, you expose yourself to international coverage and you expose your weaknesses,” he said.

Anywhere in the world, developing big systems takes a long time, whether it’s building a culture of responsibility or a well-regulated inspection regime, or a seamless construction process.

Maybe, said Sinclair, that’s why it’s easier to blame fate when things go wrong.

“When we assume it’s a freak accident, we dismiss it and we just ignore it," he said.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Daily Times report on seismic monitoring in Pakistan:

KARACHI: The project to install new broadband seismic stations equipped with advance technology that was initiated following the 2005 Kashmir Earthquake to strengthen seismic monitoring system, has completed.
Pakistan Meteorology Department (PMD) has planned to officially inaugurate these stations on May 16, 2013 in Islamabad. The existing ten broadband seismic stations are British technology and the new stations are based on Chinese technology.
Under the project, ten new broadband seismic stations were installed, bringing the total number to 20 in Pakistan. These new seismic stations, installed in Skardu, Charath, Tarbela, Islamabad, Salt Range Punjab, Fort Munro, Dera Ghazi Khan, Lahore and Nangarparkar, have been integrated with the existing seismic network of the PMD. The project aims at better monitoring of earthquakes and precise earthquake hazard assessment.
On October 8, 2005 an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale struck northern Pakistan and Azad Kashmir, killing around 73,000 people and displacing 3.5million in its wake. Followed by the earthquake, when nations around the world were helping financially and were sending relief goods, China promised to strengthen the seismic monitoring system in Pakistan. Pak-China Seismograph Network was initiated and implemented by China Earthquake Network Centre (CENC) and China Earthquake Administration (CEA) to fulfil the promise.
Additionally, state of the art and advanced Very Broad Band (VBB) sensor has also been installed in PMD’s station located in Margla Hills, Islamabad, thus making Pakistan the only South Asian country in possession of this technology.
“This project is a great achievement and now Pakistan has 20 broadband stations, all connected via satellite,” said PMD Seismology Division Islamabad Director Zahid Rafi.
Most of these new broadband stations are installed either in northern areas or in Punjab, however, the coastline of Sindh and Balochistan was not considered in the project.
Pakistan has witnessed several tsunamigenic earthquakes in the past along the coast of the Arabian Sea in Sindh and Balochistan. Several experts forecast destructive tsunamis on these coastlines in the future due to the presence of Makran Subduction Zone or MSZ as the potential source in the region.
Despite these warnings, the Pakistani government has never considered installing the broadband seismometers on the coastal belt.
The PMD official data reveals that out of the existing ten broadband stations only two were installed on Sindh and Balochistan’s coasts; one in Turbat and another in Karachi. However, experts are of the view that due to the presence of MSZ these areas need more broadband stations.\04\06\story_6-4-2013_pg12_3

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Reuters report on a powerful 7.8 earthquake near Iran-Pakistan border:

(Reuters) - A powerful earthquake struck a border area of southeast Iran on Tuesday killing at least 35 people in neighboring Pakistan, destroying hundreds of houses and shaking buildings as far away as India and Gulf Arab states.

Communications with the sparsely-populated desert and mountain region were largely cut off, making it difficult to assess Iranian casualties. But an Iranian provincial governor later said there were no reports of deaths there so far.

"Our staff were in a meeting and we felt the ground shake," Saleh Mangi, Programme Unit Manager for Plan International in the Pakistani town of Thatta, was quoted as saying by the British office of the children's charity.

"It was horrible - we felt the movement in the chairs and even the cupboards were shaking. This is the strongest quake I have felt since the 1980s."

Pakistani officials said at least 30 people were killed and 150 injured in the town of Mashkeel in the southwestern Pakistani province of Baluchistan, which borders Iran.

Mohammed Ashraf, head of a health center in Mashkeel, said several hundred houses in the town had caved in. Three women and two children were also killed when their mud house collapsed in the Baluchistan district of Panjgur.

"The earthquake has killed at least five people in Panjgur," said Ali Imran, an official at the government disaster-response unit in Quetta, Baluchistan's main city.

Pakistan's army said it had deployed troops and helicopters to ferry tents, medicines and medical teams to Mashkeel.


Iran appeared to have emerged relatively unscathed. National media reported that 27 people were injured and that the significant depth was the likely reason for the relatively low level of damage from a 7.8 magnitude quake.

Soon after the quake, an Iranian official told Reuters he expected hundreds of dead and state media quoted unconfirmed reports of 40 fatalities in Iran.

But Hatam Narouyi, governor of Iran's Sistan and Baluchistan province, said there were "no fatalities", the student news agency (ISNA) reported.

The U.S. Geological Survey, in a revised bulletin, said the quake hit at 1044 GMT at a depth of 82 km (51 miles). The epicenter was 198 km (123 miles) southeast of the city of Zahedan and 250 km northwest of Turbat in Pakistan.

People in the Iranian city of Zahedan poured into the streets when it struck, Fars news agency reported. Officials in Saravan, the nearest city to the epicenter, said there had been no serious damage.

Iranian Red Crescent official Morteza Moradipour said emergency crews, including dog teams to sniff through the debris for any buried survivors, had reached the area.

"Because of the strength of the earthquake we had expected to see significant damage in residential areas but the quake was at a depth of 95 km and therefore the extent of the damage was on par with earthquakes measuring magnitude 4," he said.

The U.N.'s Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said it was in contact with authorities in Iran and "stands ready to assist upon request", a spokesman said....

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an excerpt of Discovery News story on Pakistan's recent quake along Chaman fault:

In the hours after the quake, a new island suddenly rose offshore in shallow seas near the town of Gwadar, about 230 miles (380 kilometers) southwest of the epicenter. Geologists with the Pakistan Navy have collected samples from the rocky pile, the Associated Press reported. From pictures and descriptions, many scientists think the mound is a mud volcano, which often erupt after strong earthquakes near the Arabian Sea. A second island has also been reported offshore of Ormara, about 170 miles (280 km) east of Gwadar, Geo News said.

"Other mud volcanoes have been triggered at this distance for similar size earthquakes," Michael Manga, a geophysicist and expert on mud volcanoes at the University of California, Berkeley, told LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet.

Little known risk
The unexplained island may have focused unusual global attention on the earthquake, which hit in a region that frequently experiences devastating temblors. (Video: Island Appears After Pakistan Earthquake)

But despite the hazards faced by millions living near the Chaman Fault, a combination of geography and politics means the seismic zone remains little studied. The Taliban killed 10 climbers, including an American, in northern Pakistan in June.

"Its location is in an area that is very difficult to do any traditional field work," Khan told LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet. "I tried twice to submit proposals to (the National Science Foundation) and I got excellent reviews, but the review panel said I was risking my life to work in that area."

But the National Academy of Sciences felt differently. With their support, Khan and his colleagues in Pakistan and at the University of Cincinnati are now studying the fault's current and past movement. This will help the researchers forecast future earthquake risk.

"This fault has had very little work and no paleoseismology," Khan said. "It is really important."

Pakistan's deadly earthquakes owe their birth to the juncture of three colliding tectonic plates: Indian, Eurasian and Arabian. The Indian and Eurasian plates grind past each other along the Chaman Fault, triggering destructive temblors.

Earthquakes along the Chaman Fault are more frequent in the north than in the south, Khan said. Similar to California's San Andreas Fault or Turkey's East Anatolian Fault, in some spots, the massive plate boundary is not a single fracture. In southern Pakistan, the Chaman Fault splits into more than one strand, weaving a braid of many smaller faults. The differences between north and south influence the number of earthquakes.

In the past 40 years, only one quake bigger than magnitude 6.0 has jiggled southern Pakistan within 125 miles (200 km) of yesterday's shaker, according to the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology in Seattle. (High & Dry: Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau)

ANALYSIS: African Groundwater Discovery May Slake Thirst
Altogether, the strike-slip Chaman Fault spans more than 500 miles (860 kilometers), crossing through Afghanistan and Pakistan. Strike-slip faults move each side of the fracture mostly parallel to each other.

In the north, near the town of Chaman where India jabs a knuckle into Pakistan, the fault has zipped along at 33 millimeters (1.3 inches) every year for the past 38,000 years, according to a study Khan's team published Sept. 12 in the journal Tectonophysics.

"That is very fast," Khan said. "That tells me there were multiple major earthquakes in the last 38,000 years.".

Riaz Haq said...

#NepalEarthquake: #Pakistan Air Force Relief Plane Crew Caught in Aftershock via @NBCNews

KATHMANDU, Nepal — Landing a plane laden with aid in earthquake-struck Nepal proved particularly hair-raising for a Pakistan Air Force crew on Tuesday who touched down right as an aftershock hit.

Ahmad Bilal, Pakistan Air Force Squadron Leader, said that "right in the middle" of an exchange with air traffic control while the plane taxied, the controller stopped talking.

"I thought my [comms were] out," Bilal told NBC News minutes after landing his American-made Hercules aircraft at Kathmandu airport. "We were just rolling around. And then [the controller] comes back, 15 minutes later. He had run off because of the aftershocks."

Bilal successfully landed 40 tons of aid, 18 Pakistani engineers and two search-and-rescue dogs to find those caught up in Saturday's devastating 7.8-magnitude quake. The crew then unloaded the aid as a tremor violently shook the flight.

"When we stopped and were unloading all the supplies, and I was warming things down in the instruments, I read around a 30 degree lurch to the left and then a 30 degree right. On a stationary aircraft that weighs 150,000 pounds," technician Sanaullah Khan said. "Then the whole plane was lurched four feet forward. That's when, in the distance, a building collapsed and the dust raced towards us. It was like a sandstorm it came so fast."

Seeing the devastation on the ground prompted the seven-man crew to give away the food and water they had brought with them to the earthquake victims.

Riaz Haq said...

Magnitude 5.1 earthquake strikes close to #Pakistan capital #Islamabad … via @ABCNews

A magnitude 5.1 earthquake has struck very close to Pakistan's capital of Islamabad, the US Geological Survey (USGS) says.

Although the quake had a moderate magnitude, its epicentre was only 16 kilometres north-east of the populous city.

It struck at 1:59am local time on Saturday and was very shallow, 26 kilometres deep, the USGS said.

Residents of the Pakistani capital reported buildings and vehicles shaking after the quake hit, but there were no immediate reports of major damage.

The quake was felt in several Pakistani cities in the provinces of eastern Punjab and north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Ghulam Rasul, a senior meteorologist at the Pakistan Meteorological Department said.

The local meteorologists put the size of the quake at magnitude 4.6 and the depth at just 10 kilometres.

Pakistan straddles part of the boundary where the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, making the country susceptible to earthquakes.

It was hit by a magnitude 7.6 quake on October 8, 2005 that killed more than 73,000 people and left about 3.5 million homeless, mainly in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

A magnitude 7.7 earthquake devastated several areas in south-western Baluchistan province in September 2013, killing at least 370 people and leaving 100,000 homeless.

Riaz Haq said...

#Modi's man Doval's meddling: #India losing the neighbourhood - The Hindu. #Nepal #SriLanka #Maldives #Pakistan #BJP

Save for Bhutan and perhaps Bangladesh, much of South Asia has major grievances against New Delhi today. Clearly, then, there is something fundamentally wrong with the BJP-led government’s neighbourhood diplomacy. If so, what is it that New Delhi has done to deserve the ire of its neighbours? While New Delhi’s not-so-friendly relationship with Islamabad is unsurprising, what has provoked the other countries, some of which figured very high on Mr. Modi’s bilateral priorities, to suddenly come out openly against India?

Nosey in Nepal

One of the major reasons for India’s growing unpopularity in the regional capitals is its increasing tendency to interfere in the domestic affairs of its smaller neighbours, either citing security implications or to offset the target country’s unfriendly strategic choices. Take the case of Nepal, for instance. New Delhi was deeply upset with the Constitution passed by the Nepalese Constituent Assembly in September last year. Its unhappiness resulted from the legitimate feeling among the people of Terai, especially the Madhesis and Tharus, living close to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, that they have been short-changed by the country’s new Constitution. But a substantive political argument was thwarted by poor diplomatic style.

Meddling in Sri Lanka

If New Delhi’s Mission Kathmandu was both a failure and distasteful, its ‘subtle interference’ in Sri Lanka in the run-up to the island nation’s elections last year has set a dangerous precedent. New Delhi had proactively promoted the coalition led by Maithripala Sirisena to defeat the then Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa whose anti-Tamil record and pro-China tilt was resented by New Delhi. Several reports at the time claimed that Colombo had asked New Delhi to withdraw the Research and Analysis Wing’s station chief in Sri Lanka for allegedly working to ensure the victory of the anti-Rajapaksa coalition.

While involving ourselves in regime changes in the neighbourhood is a terrible idea in the longer run, we must ask whether the regime change in Colombo has actually prompted it to declare itself pro-India. Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, while visiting India last year, removed any such misgivings by saying, “Sri Lanka is neither pro-India nor pro-China.” The new government in Colombo has been vigorously courting Beijing for economic and infrastructural assistance, something it knows fully well that New Delhi can only provide in small measure.

Riling the Maldives regime

Maldives, yet another traditional ally of ours, has also been resenting the Indian reactions to its domestic political developments. New Delhi, being highly critical of how the pro-India former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed was jailed by the current regime under terrorism charges, publicly stated that “we are concerned at recent developments in the Maldives, including the arrest and manhandling of former President Nasheed”. The Maldivian government responded by saying it hoped that India would “adhere to the principle of Panchsheel and will not intervene in domestic politics of Maldives”.

During External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Maldives in October last year, Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen’s office issued a sharply worded statement that his “government will not tolerate foreign parties interfering with the country’s domestic issues”.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan orders AW139 twin-engine helicopters for search and rescue. Adds to 11 Pratt & Whitney PT6-powered helis

Pakistan has ordered an undisclosed number of AgustaWestland AW139 intermediate twin-engined helicopters configured for search and rescue missions.

Deliveries are due to start in 2017, says parent company Leonardo-Finmeccanica, with the deal part of a fleet renewal programme “spread over several batches”, it adds. Signed in Islamabad, the contract also covers its provision of personnel training and logistics support.

A total of 11 of the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6-powered helicopters are already operated in Pakistan. Of this number, Flightglobal's Fleets Analyzer database records five as used by the government for disaster relief and transportation missions.

Riaz Haq said...

The rapidly populating coastal region from the Gulf to Pakistan faces a huge tsunami risk

That tsunamis can cause death and devastation has become painfully clear over the past two decades. On Boxing Day, 2004, a magnitude 9 earthquake off the coast of Sumatra caused waves several metres high to devastate the Indian Ocean – killing more than 230,000 people in 14 countries. In 2011, another magnitude 9 earthquake, this time off Japan, produced waves up to 20 metres in height, flooding the Fukushima nuclear reactor. It killed more than 15,000 people.

A new study, published in Geophysical Journal International, by my colleagues and me suggests that a 1,000km long fault at the northern end of the Arabian Sea may pose a similar threat.

The Makran, as the southern coastal region of Iran and Pakistan is known, is a subduction zone. In such regions, one of the Earth’s tectonic plates is dragged beneath another, forming a giant fault known as a “megathrust”. As the plates move past each other, they can get stuck, causing stress to build up. At some point the stress becomes high enough that the megathrust breaks in an earthquake.

This was exactly what caused the Sumatra 2004 and Tohoku 2011 earthquakes. When a megathrust moves suddenly, the whole seafloor is offset and the water has to move out of the way over a huge area. This sets off waves with particular characteristics that can cross entire oceans: tsunamis. The phenomenon, along with their potentially large size, makes subduction zone earthquakes particularly dangerous.

But just because a part of a subduction zone produces earthquakes doesn’t mean that the whole megathrust can move in one go. We often see that stress builds up at different rates on different parts of the fault, with some parts sliding smoothly past each other. How much of a megathrust can move in one go is important because it determines the size of the resulting earthquake. The amount that the Makran megathrust can move in earthquakes has been a longstanding question, but the hostile climate and challenging politics of the region have made research there difficult.

We know that the eastern part of the Makran megathrust (in Pakistan) can produce large earthquakes. A magnitude 8.1 quake off the coast of western Pakistan in 1945 caused a tsunami which killed about 300 people along the coasts of Pakistan and Oman. There have been several smaller earthquakes on the megathrust since, including a magnitude 6 in February this year.

If the western part of the Makran (in Iran) also produces earthquakes – and the whole Makran megathrust were to move in one go – it could produce a magnitude 9 earthquake, similar to those in Sumatra and Tohoku.

However, we have never actually recorded a subduction earthquake in this part of Makran. In fact, there are only records of one candidate quake from 1483 – and the actual location of this is disputed. But it’s important to keep in mind that just because we haven’t seen an earthquake doesn’t mean that there couldn’t be one – particularly since the intervals between earthquakes are often hundreds or thousands of years. Historically, not many people have lived in the remote Iranian Makran, a desert which killed Alexander the Great’s army. So earthquakes might simply not have been documented.