Kashmir May Be Hit By Mega Quake Soon: Study

Kashmir May Be Hit By Mega Quake Soon: Study

12 April 2012
India Today
Naseer Ganai

Srinagar: A day after an earthquake shook parts of the country triggering tsunami fears, conservation architects advised the people of Kashmir to construct their houses using traditional architecture to avoid heavy losses in an earthquake . Kashmir is placed in seismic zone five, making it highly vulnerable to earthquakes . The Valley was hit by a 7.6 magnitude earthquake with its epicenter in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir in October 2005 causing massive destruction. 'If new houses are built using the age-old traditional knowledge even if modern material is used, imminent damage from earthquake can be averted. There has been abundant research and discourse since the devastating earthquake of 2005 as to how the traditional architecture of Kashmir was resistant to earthquakes,' says conservation architect Saima Iqbal. Iqbal works with Indian National Trust For Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), Jammu and Kashmir chapter. In December last year a US-based seismologist Roger Bilham had warned that Kashmir Valley is likely to be hit by an earthquake of largest-ever magnitude without giving any time frame. Bilham, a professor of geology at the University of Colorado, had said that his new global positioning system (GPS) data readings reveal the gradual movement of rocks in the Zanskar mountains north of the Valley and warned, 'The zone would rupture when a quake eventually happens. The quake would be 200 km wide as against 80 kilometres predicted earlier.' 'The zone would encompass the Kashmir Valley, including the Srinagar city with its 1.5-million strong population,' his study said. 'If slippage occurs over a length of 300 kilometres, as is possible, a mega quake of magnitude-9 is likely to occur. Given building codes and population in the region, it could mean a death toll of 300,000 people,' the study added. Since January this year four tremors have been felt in the Valley, thankfully all of them were of very low intensity. 'It is common knowledge now that the presence of wooden tying members at each successive floor level provides the required elasticity to the house which behaves like a vertical square block owing to its symmetry. When this 'block' moves, it moves as a unit. There, the impact on the building is less by severe horizontal movements of the earthquake, keeping the structure largely safe,' Iqbal said. 'One cannot with utmost certainty say that all the modern houses are being built inappropriately and that they are not resilient to serious earthquakes. But site surveys after the 2005 earthquake have revealed some serious technical shortcomings in the way modern structures, especially in far-flung areas, are being constructed,' she said. 'These buildings mostly suffered from improper masonry bonding, the corner wall junctions were weak, and the buildings were not tied by linear structural bands which in the event of an earthquake help hold the building together,' she added. Chief town planner of Kashmir, Iftikhar Hakeem, said photographs of the 2005 earthquake where the traditional construction techniques were used indicate that the traditional architecture withstood the temblor. 'Only the structures where masonry was used without proper lacings resulted in an extensive damage to these structures. RCC structures, if designed properly, have also proved that they are safe and earthquake resistant but most of the new constructions coming up in Srinagar are not properly designed and have serious problems with respect to scale and proportion-purity of form,' he added. 'The traditional architecture had evolved using the local material without the use of plasters and cement which made them compatible with the environment. The traditional way of building has been replaced by reinforced cement concrete with masonry infill,' said Hakeem. This, he said, serves the interests of construction industry and commercial industry who have been working overtime to convince the people that the traditional buildings were unsafe or obsolete. 'This has resulted in incompatibility of scale and proportions which is evident wherever RCC constructions exist in the city.' The traditional architecture of Kashmir was based on two types of techniques: 1. Taq system (timber laced masonry) 2. Dhajji Dewari (timber framed with masonry infill) This architecture has been the result of the centuries of evolution in building construction on soft soils and making the structures earthquake resistant in the Vale of Kashmir. The construction techniques focused on the use of available materials and the methods of construction gave structures some kind of flexibility which was essential. The most important element that makes the old houses appealing is the consistency and compatibility with one another and the set of standards that got evolved through centuries of construction becoming the hallmark of these buildings.