Natural time-bomb: Alarming frequency of earthquakes in South Asia should worry us - Firstpost
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Natural time-bomb: Alarming frequency of earthquakes in South Asia should worry us

13 April: Earthquake of magnitude 6.9 strikes Myanmar, tremors felt in east India

10 April: Six people killed in Pakistan after 6.6-magnitude earthquake hits Kabul, tremors felt in India

8 April: Mild tremor of magnitude 4.2 hits Nepal

22 February: Moderate earthquake of magnitude 5.5 hits Nepal

20 January: 6.1-magnitude earthquake strikes China

4 January: 6.7-magnitude earthquake hits Manipur in India, 11 people killed

When headlines like these become a bit too common, you know that they point to something bigger.

It has been three and a half months since 2016 began. And since that time, we have seen six major earthquakes in South Asia. That means on an average, there were two earthquakes in South Asia every month.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

It is safe to say that the number of earthquakes in or affecting South Asia have risen to an alarming frequency, even before the beginning of this year.

And apart from the fact that the effect of these earthquakes are devastating, the regularity of these tremors have created fears that South Asia could witness a situation like the one after the 2015 Nepal earthquake, which resulted in the death of over 8,000 people.

But something even more worrying than the fact that the frequency of earthquakes has increased is the fact that researchers and scientists have predicted that an earthquake even more destructive than the 2015 Nepal earthquake may hit South Asia in the Himalayan region.

After the Manipur earthquake in January, the disaster management experts in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had warned that an earthquake of magnitude 8.2 or even greater could hit the already ruptured Himalayan region. The 2015 Nepal earthquake was of magnitude 7.9.

According to this report in The Times of India, a series of earthquakes since the 2011 Sikkim earthquake re-ruptured the Himalayan region which had already developed cracks due to previous earthquakes.

"The current conditions might trigger at least four earthquakes greater than 8.0 in magnitude. And if they delay, the strain accumulated during the centuries provokes more catastrophic mega earthquakes," the report quoted Roger Bilham, seismologist of University of Colorado, as saying.

The report had also said that over half of the Indian landmass was prone to earthquakes.

Experts at the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) had further said in the report that stress in the mountains of the north-east had increased since the Nepal earthquake and the collision between the Himalayan plate in the north and the Indo-Burmese plate in the east had put the entire region at risk.

Another report in The Wall Street Journal said that scientists were concerned about the area west of the Nepal earthquake, where the plates were still locked.

It is possible that the 2015 earthquake "failed to rupture the locked portions of the Himalayan thrust beneath and west of the Kathmandu basin because of some persistent barrier of mechanical and structural origin," the report quoted a paper published in Nature Geoscience as saying.

The report added that the stress in the locked western Himalayan region could be released by an "afterslip", which could cause a large earthquake.

Scientists have been predicting a massive earthquake ever since the 2015 earthquake struck Nepal.

According to this April 2015 IANS report, experts had said even then that a temblor of equal intensity is "overdue" in northern India. "An earthquake of the same magnitude is overdue. That may happen either today or 50 years from now... in the region of the Kashmir, Himachal, Punjab and Uttrakhand Himalyas. Seismic gaps have been identified in these regions," BK Rastogi, the director general of the Ahmedabad-based Institute of Seismological Research, had said.

This is because the movement of tectonic plates generates stress over time, and rocks at the surface break in response. When the stress accumulates, every 100 km stretch of the 2,000-km-long Himalyas can be hit by a high-magnitude earthquake.

"The accumulation of stress is going on everywhere. But where it will reach the elastic limit, we don't know nor also when. But what we do know is that it is happening everywhere (sic)," Rastogi had added.

With agency inputs

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