A sense of fear was looming large among people amidst growing speculations that a major earthquake may jolt western Nepal anytime, causing huge loss of life and property. Though quakes are not predictable, geologists had long projected that a deadlier tremor could occur in the region (the west from Gorkha) as it has not witnessed such a disaster for centuries. However, earthquakes below 6.5 magnitudes on the Richter scale with their epicentres in Jajarkot, Dolpa, Doti, Bajhang, Bajura, Achham and other neighbouring districts had been recorded over the past couple of months. Those quakes had not caused much damage to the lives of people as well as physical structures. But they had been hinting at a possibility that more devastating ones may occur any moment there.
The Friday (November 3) night came as a shock for the residents of Jajarkot and Rukum West districts, with the occurrence of a 6.4-magnitude earthquake. The quake has proved to be quite destructive, with death toll exceeding 155 in those two districts. About 200 others have been injured in the disaster. Ramidanda of Barekot Rural Municipality in Jajarkot was its epicentre at a depth of 10 kilometres. The quake took place at 11:47 pm. Those two districts were the most affected. However, the disaster has hit other adjoining districts like Rukum East and Salyan as well.
One of the main reasons for such big human casualties was that most people were asleep when the earthquake rattled the region and it was not possible for them to leave their houses immediately. Besides, most of the houses were not quake-resilient. They were made of mud and stones. Video footages show smashed multi-storied buildings. Those structures must have suffered cracks due to previous quakes. As the area recorded many aftershocks after the quake, the locals had to spend the rest of the night in the open for fear of additional quakes and damage to their houses. Many lives could have been saved had the local residents remained alert against living in such unsafe houses. Sadly, they had no alternative but to stay in the fractured houses.
According to the National Earthquake Monitoring & Research Centre (NEMRC), the tremors were experienced in many parts of Nepal, including the Kathmandu Valley. They were also felt in India’s New Delhi and numerous other areas, and the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. Scores of aftershocks have been recorded in the quake-affected districts after the disaster. The Ramidanda quake is the most powerful disaster after the 2015 earthquakes. As many as 9,000 people lost their lives while more than 22,000 others were wounded in the two major quakes in central Nepal. With its epicentre in Barpak of Gorkha district, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake occurred on April 25, 2015. The disaster caused most of the devastations. Hundreds of aftershocks followed, including a 7.3-magnitude in May of that year.
The government has promptly responded to the disaster by deploying security agencies at the quake-hit areas after the quake in order to intensify rescue operations and provide relief to those in need. The rescue teams were able to take people out of debris and rush them to health facilities for treatment. They also searched for others who had gone missing following the disaster. Many bodies were found inside rubbles of the demolished houses. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda visited the quake-affected areas on Saturday morning. He was accompanied by a team of health workers. On Friday night itself, he had directed to security agencies to speed up rescue efforts.
Meanwhile, the federal government has decided to send Rs. 50 million each to Jajarkot and Rukum West for rescue and relief initiatives. The amount is being spent by the concerned district disaster management committees. Another commendable initiative taken by the federal government is that it offers free treatment to those injured in the earthquake. Provincial governments and numerous other public agencies and private companies have also extended their assistance valued at millions of rupees to the quake survivors. Friendly countries like India, China, the United States, Russian Federation and Pakistan have also shown their willingness to extend their helping hands to the Government of Nepal for the rescue, relief and rehabilitation of the quake survivors. The Chinese government has pledged to donate relief materials worth Rs. 100 million for the quake victims of the Karnali Province. Likewise, various political parties in Nepal have asked their cadres to dedicate themselves to carrying out rescue and relief works.
Nepal falls in a seismic zone as the nation is located between two seismically active tectonic plates — Indian and Eurosia. So, having quake-resilient buildings and other physical infrastructures is essential to help minimise the risk of tremors. Raising public awareness about quake safety is also very important. Most human casualties occur due to lack of disaster safety awareness. Many people are likely to lose their lives because they do not have earthquake-resistant houses. We need to learn to live with tremors by creating quake-resilient houses and other structures and promoting awareness about tremor safety.
Although Nepal has witnessed several devastating earthquakes over the past decades, neither the authorities nor the people seem to have learnt any significant lesson from those disasters. All the three-tier governments must concentrate their efforts on promoting quake safety initiatives in order to protect human lives and property. They need to work in close coordination and cooperation not only for carrying out rescue and relief operations and rehabilitating the disaster survivors but also building safer houses for those rendered homeless. They should also make sure that there will not be any irregularity while distributing reliefs to the quake victims.
(The author is a freelancer.)