Friday, 22 July 2011

Earthquake Risk: Central Asia

Central Asia (Source: Wikipedia)
This week a Magnitude 6.1 earthquake struck the Ferghana Valley region of Central Asia, killing 13 people in Uzbekistan and injuring many others. Areas in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan also reported damage. The Ferghana Valley region is one of the most densely populated regions of Central Asia, and one of the most seismically active regions in the world. This combination of seismic hazard and dense population means there is a significant risk of a serious disaster in this area. Historically there have been significant earthquakes in most of the Central Asian nation's capital cities - causing significant damage and leaving many homeless.

The extent of any future disaster will depend on the vulnerability of communities. For example in 2010 large earthquakes struck both Haiti and Chile - and yet the death toll in Chile was substantially lower than in Haiti (despite the Chilean earthquake being significantly stronger). This was as a result of high vulnerability in Haiti compared to Chile, which is much better prepared for earthquakes, has better response mechanisms in place and better quality of buildings. Vulnerability in many cities in Central Asia is high - with dense population, poor earthquake education, poor governmental response mechanisms and low building standards. When this is coupled with the serious probability of hazard in the area (an estimate stated in 1996 suggested there was a 40% chance that a Magnitude 9.0 earthquake will hit Central Asia within 20 years) this area must be a priority area for disaster risk reduction programmes. 

Sarez Lake (Source: Wikipedia)
In addition to the risk to large cities in the region, there is also the possibility of a major multi-hazard event in the border regions/Ferghana Valley. If an earthquake were to cause failure of the landslide formed Sarez Lake - it could lead to catastrophic flooding in the terrain immediately below the lake. This series of events could significantly effect millions of people.

Possible Action?

There is an urgent need for a widespread disaster risk reduction programme in this region. There should be political engagement at the national and regional level, and a building up of the institutional capacity of country's disaster response and preparedness departments (including an examination of insurance against disaster). There should be a strengthening of public education, through the engagement of civil society organisations, the school system and national advertising campaigns. In the long-term there should be a major review of construction quality in the region to reduce the impacts of disasters. 

Further Reading
UNISDR - Central Asia & Caucasus Disaster Risk Management Initiative (Some good profiles on individual countries, as well as a look at cross-border issues)