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Owing to haphazard construction, next quake can reduce Shimla into rubble : Report NDMA

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Even as the death toll from the 7.9 magnitude earthquake climbs to over 3,200 and stunned survivors struggle to come to terms with the magnitude of the disaster, experts say the worst is yet to come. The quake, which reduced large parts of Kathmandu to rubble, is not the ‘great Himalayan quake’ that the region has been bracing for.

SHIMLA: In last few years, Himachal Pradesh (HP) is witnessing increased frequency of earthquakes up to 5 magnitude on the Richter scale, which has led to the fear of bigger quakes hitting the state in future. While experts are claiming low intensity quakes release seismic energy to avoid bigger earthquakes, unplanned constructions, even on steep hills, has led to fear of widespread destruction if a high magnitude earthquake hits the state.

A bigger quake haunts Himalayas

The devastating earthquake that originated in Nepal on Saturday may have been the strongest to hit the central Himalayan region in the last 80 years, but scientists say this was not the big one that they had been fearing would strike the area.

Prof Sankar Kumar Nath of IIT Kharagpur, who has studied seismic activity in the Himalayan region,said

He further said,

If you look at it differently, we are actually lucky that only a 7.9-magnitude earthquake has come. I would be very happy to have a few 7.9-magnitude earthquakes than a 9-magnitude earthquake which would be absolute disaster. The trouble is that in terms of energy release, which is what causes the damage, it would take 40 to 50 earthquakes of magnitude 7.9 to avoid an earthquake of magnitude 9.

A magnitude 9 earthquake is ten times bigger but approximately 32 times stronger than a magnitude 8 earthquake — magnitude is a merely a reflection of the height of seismic waves measured on a seismograph.
While India has escaped relatively unhurt in Saturday’s earthquake, the danger of aftershocks still persists.

The areas falling in districts Chamba, Kangra, Mandi, Kullu, Hamirpur and Bilaspur are very sensitive as they fall in the very high damage risk seismic zone (Zone V), whereas the rest of the areas falls in high damage risk zone (Zone IV).

A study had shown that if an earthquake of bigger magnitude takes place in Himachal during night hours, then it would kill 2.40 lakh people while during the morning hour casualty would be around 1.6 lakh.

An assistant professor of geology at HPU’s regional centre at Dharamshala, Mukta, said that after a major earthquake in 2005, whose epicenter was in Kashmir, Himachal has been witnessing low intensity earthquakes at regular intervals.

She further added,

Last year in October-November around 7-8 low intensity earthquakes were recorded in Dharamshala and Baijnath areas of Kangra district in a span of 3-4 days.

She said Kangra is a seismically-prone area. She said in the seismic-prone areas construction needs to be regulated and earthquake resistant buildings need to be built to minimize the impact of quakes.

She added,

If the buildings are not made according to the set norms then even a 4-5 magnitude tremor can destroy those.

Massive haphazard constructions in the hill towns of Shimla, Dharamshala, Dalhousie and Kullu have made them prone to natural hazards like earthquake. In Shimla, construction has taken place on steep slopes. An earthquake of 8 or above magnitude can turn the tourist town into rubbles as 14 major localities are situated on an average slope of 35 to 70 degrees with peak population density of 2,000 to 3,000 per hectare, despite the fact that the city falls under seismic zone IV.

A study conducted by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has shown that during natural disasters like earthquake 17% people would be injured while 3-4% would die.

Development plan of Shimla prepared by the town and country planning department has identified geologically week areas including northern slopes of the Ridge extending up to Grand Hotel in the west covering Lakkar Bazar, including the Central School extending to Auckland Nursery School, then down to Dhobi Ghat below Idgah electric sub-station. The slide-prone areas include Laddakhi Muhalla (Krishna Nagar) and the spur below directorate of education department and surrounding areas of Hotel Clark’s.

Localities like Cemetery, Sanjauli, Jiunu Colony, Chakkar, Katchi Ghati and Lower Bharari are susceptible to major mishaps during earthquakes whereby chain effect of collapse of building may affect many buildings on slopes down below.

According to the report prepared by Himachal Pradesh State Disaster Management Authority, seismically the state lies in the great Alpine-Himalayan seismic belt running from Alps mountains through Serbia, Croatia, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan and Burma.

Most severe earthquakes in Himachal

April 4, 1905 in Kangra: An earthquake of 7.8 magnitude killed 20,000 people and 53,000 domestic animals had perished while one lakh houses were destroyed. Economic cost of recovery was estimated at Rs 29 lakh during that time.

January 19, 1975 in Kinnaur: A quake of 6.8 magnitude had killed 60 people while 100 others were badly injured. About 2,000 dwellings were devastated and 2,500 people rendered homeless.

April 26, 1986 in Dharamshala: A tremor of 5.5 magnitude had killed six people and caused extensive damage to buildings. Loss was estimated at Rs 65 crore.

March 24, 1995 in Chamba: An earthquake of 4.9 magnitude had left over 70% houses with cracks.

July 29, 1997 in Sundernagar: A quake of 5.0 magnitude had left around 1,000 houses damaged.

Madan has studied English Literature and Journalism from HP University and lives in Shimla. He is an amateur photographer and has been writing on topics ranging from environmental, socio-economic, development programs, education, eco-tourism, eco-friendly lifestyle and to green technologies for over 9 years now. He has an inclination for all things green, wonderful and loves to live in solitude. When not writing, he can be seen wandering, trying to capture the world around him in his DSLR lens.

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Himachal: Report Forest Fires on Toll-Free Numbers 1077 and 1070

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helpline for Forest Fires in himachal pradesh

Shimla-Forest fire is a recurrent annual phenomenon in Himachal Pradesh and causes losses worth several crores every year. Dry spell and summers make forests, especially chir pine forests, highly vulnerable to forest fires. These forest fires not only damage the forest wealth but also hit wildlife and biodiversity in general. The forest department attributes most fires to human factors.

Like every year, the forest department has claimed that it is all geared up and ready to combat forest fires this year too. Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Dr. Savita on Monday held a virtual review meeting with Forest Circles on preparedness for forest fires in the state.

She said that the Forest department was well prepared to fight the forest fires and a rapid forest fire fighting force and rapid response teams had been set up at forest division and range levels.

“Approximately 40,000 man-days of fire watchers would be engaged by the department in addition to existing frontline staff for preventing and combating forest fires,” she said. The state disaster control room with toll-free number 1077 at the state level and 1070 at the district level were operational for reporting of the forest fire by the local community, she informed.

Dr. Savita said messages regarding forest fire had been shared with the members of the rapid forest fire fighting force, in which approximately 50,000 volunteers had already been registered. Awareness to the community was also conducted through Nukkar Nataks, songs, speeches and other activities at different locations in the state. Besides, a massive state-level awareness program was also conducted at 45 places from 10 to 17 March 2021

She said that the department had created forest fire lines and did control burning and also constructed water storage structures in the forest areas to combat forest fires. Additional multi-utility vehicles and water loaded tankers in 80 fire-sensitive ranges had been engaged for three months. She that matter regarding Standard Operating Systems (SOPs) for requisition of helicopter services for dousing the forest fires had been sent to the Government for approval. 

Feature Photo: Unsplash@Thematthoward

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Himachal Counts 108,578 Waterbirds of 96 Species This Year With Increase in Habitat

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Annual Bird Count in Himachal Pradesh 2021

Shimla-The habitat of migratory and resident water-birds in Himachal Pradesh has gradually improved, said Forest Minister Rakesh Pathania.

The annual water-bird count at Pong Dam Lake Wildlife Sanctuary was conducted in the first of February, 2021 and the exercise was conducted under restrained conditions due to the prevailing Avian Influenza outbreak in Pong Dam Lake as well as the COVID-19 Pandemic, he said.

The exercise was conducted by Wildlife wing of Himachal Pradesh by deploying 57 staff members in 26 sections of the sanctuary for counting the water-dependent birds.

Total 108,578 birds of 96 species were counted during this year. Out of the total number, 101,431 of 51 species are water-dependent migratory birds and 6,433 of 29 species are water-dependent resident birds. As many as 714 birds of 16 other species were also recorded. The total population of the flagship species, Bar-Headed Geese, is 40,570.

The other species which have higher population count during this year are Eurasian Coot (24,163), Northern Pintail (12,702), Common Teal (8,444), Little Cormorant (3,649), Great Cormorant (3,410), Grey Lag Goose (2,297), Northern Shoveler (2,275) and Common Pochard (2,138). The species which find noticeable mention are Red Necked Grebe, Great Bittern, Lesser White-Fronted Goose, Red Crested Pochard, Ferruginous Pochard, Pied Avocet, Northern Lapwing, Peregrine Falcon etc. During the counting exercise, one Bar-headed Goose and one Grey Lag Goose with collars were also spotted.

This year the Annual bird count exercise assumes significance, considering the Avian Influenza outbreak in the Wildlife Sanctuary. Further, the Minister expressed satisfaction over the timely and effective containment measures taken by Wildlife Wing to control and contain Avian Influenza outbreak in the Wildlife Sanctuary.

PCCF (Wildlife) Archana Sharma and CCF Wildlife (North) Dharamshala Upasana Patial also participated and supervised the Annual Water Bird Count.

The total population of birds, as well as number of species, counted this year are marginally less as compared to last year, probably due to the impact of Avian Influenza outbreak which was first reported on 28th December 2020.

Although the total population of water birds declined during the peak of the Avian Influenza outbreak, there is a gradual increase in the total population of birds, the Minister informed.

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Himachal First State to Complete Assessment of Snow Leopard and its Wild Prey

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Snow Leopard Population Assessment in Himachal Pradesh

Shimla-The assessment of snow leopard population in Himachal Pradesh has been completed by the state wildlife wing in collaboration with Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) Bangalore following the protocol aligning with the SPAI (Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India) protocols of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. Himachal Pradesh has become the first state to complete assessment of snow leopard and its wild prey.

The state has an estimated population of up to 73 snow leopards.

It is the first scientifically robust estimate of snow leopards and its prey for the State. Since snow leopard is the state animal, the study assumes great significance for Himachal Pradesh.
The exercise revealed that snow leopard density ranged from 0.08 to 0.37 individuals per 100 sq.km., with the trans-Himalayan regions of Spiti, Pin valley and upper Kinnaur recording the highest densities, both of the predator and its prey, mainly ibex and blue sheep.

This study covered the entire potential snow leopard habitat of Himachal Pradesh: an area of 26,112 sq.km., utilising a stratified sampling design. Camera trapping surveys were conducted at 10 sites to representatively sample all the strata i.e. high, low and unknown. The camera trap deployment over the mountainous terrains was led by a team of eight local youth of Kibber village and more than 70 frontline staff of HPFD were trained in this technique as part of the project. Snow leopards were detected at all the 10 sites (Bhaga, Chandra, Bharmour, Kullu, Miyar, Pin, Baspa, Tabo, Hangrang & Spiti) suggesting that snow leopards are found in the entire snow leopard habitat in Himachal Pradesh either as resident individuals of a population or as dispersing individuals navigating through these connecting habitats.

Another revelation from the study is that a bulk of snow leopard occurrence is outside protected areas, reiterating the fact that local communities are the strongest allies for conservation in snow leopard landscapes.

The NCF and wildlife wing collaborated in the effort and it took three years to complete the assessment. MoEFCC had launched the First National Protocol on Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India, on the occasion of International Snow Leopard Day. You can read the complete protocol here.

Snow leopard is the icon of high mountains of Asia. In India, they inhabit the higher Himalayan and TransHimalayan landscape in an altitudinal range between approximately 3,000 m to 5,400 m above MSL, spanning c. 100,000 km2 in the five states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. This area contributes to about 5% of the global snow leopard range.

Snow leopards occur over a vast, relatively remote and difficult to access mountainous area. Together with their elusive nature, this makes a complete population census of snow leopards an unfeasible goal. Even their distribution remains unclear. For example, recent surveys show that they do not occur in 25 % of the area that was thought to be their range in the state of Himachal Pradesh Their density is expected to be variable in space, dependent on several factors such as habitat suitability, prey availability, disturbance and connectivity. Variation in density across space also poses the risk of biased sampling, and, indeed, most of the snow leopard population assessments conducted so far across the world are biased towards the best habitats.

Feature Photo: Pexels/Charles Miller

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