Natural Hazards and Earthquakes in India

In India, the Himalayan region is prone to disasters like earthquakes and landslides, while the plain is mostly affected by floods almost every year. The desert region is affected by droughts and famine, while the coastal zone is susceptible to cyclones and storms.

According to the World Bank (2012), in terms of disaster damage to infrastructure, crops, and livelihood, floods are the costliest, causing 63 % of damages, followed by cyclones (19 %), earthquakes (10 %), and droughts (5 %). In terms of human casualties, earthquakes are the most lethal type of disaster in India causing 33 % of casualties, followed by floods (32 %), cyclones (32 %), and landslides (2 %)1.

The country loses US$ 9.8 billion every year due to multi-hazard disasters as 58.6% of its land is prone to earthquakes and 8.5 % of the area is vulnerable to cyclones2.

The number of disasters in the region has increased five-fold in the last 50 years with estimated direct losses amounting to US$ 80 billion3.

At Quantectum we’re very well aware of the losses that earthquakes can cause in India. That’s why we’re forming connections in India and working on presenting the solution to earthquake forecasting. You can read about our visit to India here.

 

Earthquakes

The Himalayan area, where the Indian Plate is moving against the Eurasian Plate, is a seismically very active area. The geo-tectonic features of the Himalayan region and adjacent alluvial plains make the region susceptible to earthquakes, landslides, water erosion, and other natural hazards. Though peninsular India is considered to be a quite stable area in the country, occasional earthquakes in the region show that geo-tectonic movements are still going on within its depths4.

In its history, India has faced the following major earthquakes:
- 2001 Gujarat magnitude 7.7 earthquake hit the state of Gujarat killing over 20,000 people. Several towns and villages were destroyed in the catastrophe.
- 1934 Bihar magnitude 8.1 earthquake occurred on January 15, 1934 killing over 30,000 people, with its epicenter in eastern Nepal.
- 1993 Maharashtra magnitude 6.4 earthquake occurred on September 30, 1993 killing over 20,000 people and leaving over 52 villages erased.
- 1991 Uttarkashi magnitude 6.1 earthquake occurred on October 20, 1991 killing over a thousand people. The tremors were felt up to Delhi.

According to the latest seismic zoning map brought out by the Bureau of Indian Standard, over 65 % of the country is prone to earthquakes of a Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale level of VII or more4. The country has been divided into four seismic zones according to the maximum intensity of the earthquake expected. Of these, zone V is seismically the most active and includes the whole of Northeast India, the northern portion of Bihar, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, J&K, Gujarat, and Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Many central parts of India are a subject to earthquakes due to intraplate movements as well4.

India has highly populous cities and the constructions in these cities are not earthquake resistant. Regulatory mechanisms are weak, thus any earthquake striking one of these cities would turn into a major disaster.

The entire Himalayan region is considered to be vulnerable to high-intensity earthquakes of a magnitude exceeding 8.0 on the Richter Scale, and in a relatively short span of about 50 years, four such major earthquakes have occurred in the region: Shillong, 1897 (M 8.7), Kangra, 1905 (M 8.0), Bihar–Nepal, 1934 (M 8.3), and Assam–Tibet, 1950 (M 8.6)4. Scientific publications have warned that very severe earthquakes are likely to occur anytime in the Himalayan Region, which could adversely affect the lives of several million people in India4.

You can see the percentage distribution of natural hazards in India here, and the material & human loss due to different natural hazards in the table below.

Sources:
1) Business Line. 2020. India is not Prepared for Natural Disasters. Accessed on 14-Jul-2022. Available at: https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/india-is-not-prepared-for-natural-disasters/article30463153.ece
2) The Economic Times. 2015. India Loses $9.8 Billion Every Year Due to Disasters. Accessed on 11-Jul-2022. Available at: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/india-loses-9-8-billion-every-year-due-to-disasters/articleshow/47150713.cms?from=mdr
3) CFE-DM. 2022. INDIA (Assisting State) Disaster Management Reference Handbook. Accessed on 12-Jul-2022. Available at: https://reliefweb.int/report/india/india-assisting-state-disaster-management-reference-handbook-february-2022
4) Ministry of Home Affairs Government of India. 2011. Disaster Management in India. Accessed on 12-Jul-2022. Available at: http://sdmassam.nic.in/pdf/publication/undp/disaster_management_in_india.pdf

 

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