As I watch the horrific aftermath of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, and the scale of the rescue effort needed, I cant believe the turmoil that has struck Japan. It is so alarming and distressing to see a developed country that is prepared for the danger of an earthquake be so totally overwhelmed. I am also becoming more and more alarmed of the scale of the disaster if an earthquake were to strike Kathmandu. I met a seismologist who was working here last year and he told me some extremely frightening statistics, my girlfriend has actually also been working on an article about it for the last few weeks. The verdict is that when an earthquake strikes here it may well be more lethal than Haiti.
GeoHazards International rate Kathmandu as the number one danger spot world-wide. There are several reasons for this… all of them very very alarming.
It is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Mazes of medium-high rise masonry building, virtually none of which are EQ proofed, tiny streets, no green spaces, and no-where to run. The country has been at war up until a few years ago and any regulation that was in place has since been ignored. There was a huge influx of migration into the city during the war and many poorly built buildings went up. The entire valley floor is densely packed with poorly built 3-4 story buildings.
The entire city is built on a sandy former-lakebed which acts like an amplifier for any shaking in the region.
There is only one airport, with one runway. But the route into and out of the airport will likely be blocked. And in fact it is believed to be in the worst area in the city for damage.
There are only 3 roads into and out of Kathmandu. All of them are tiny and cross huge mountains. All 3 are certain to be entirely cut-off due to landslides. Perhaps for many weeks. Considering there are very regularly landslides simply after heavy rainfall i dont find this very surprising. This means that the city is entirely cut off from the world, when the earthquake does hit there may be no way of getting into or out of the city.
As one of the worlds poorest countries it has very few resources. There are 8 working fire-engines in a city of 2.5 million people. The mobile phone building headquarters are not even proofed. Even right now before the earthquake it has only 10 hrs of electricity per day.
A very large earthquake is overdue. The last one was in 1934. They are expected roughy every 75 years. It would likely be a 8+ scale earthquake. The area to the west of Kathmandu is even more overdue.
It is inspiring to see the outpouring of funds and help going to Japan and Haiti and New Zealand. Japan certainly needs all the help it can get right now, but i cant help thinking that funds may be better spent on prevention in areas where lack of money is the number one issue. The frustrating thing is that most of this destruction can be entirely avoided. Experts had been screaming about the potential disaster waiting to happen before Haiti and there was very little done except after the event. Experts are now screaming about the dangers in Kathmandu, Istanbul, Tehran and elsewhere but we dont hear about these until after they happen. And when it does happen to Kathmandu no amount of funds can help because of the problem of getting into the city. I cant help thinking that the media is failing us. As soon as it happens they are all over it with TV cameras and helicopters but right now many people in Kathmandu i have spoken to seem to be completely unaware of the dangers. Some are not even aware they are in an earthquake zone.
You can donate money to GEOHAZARDS. They seem to be doing a direly needed job. they target the worlds most vulnerable areas and focus on prevention.