Another Earthquake in Nepal
There was another major earthquake in Nepal this morning. Initial reports say that the epicentre of the quake, which measured 7.3 on the Richter scale, was about 75 kilometres east of the nation's capital Kathmandu. Yet another quake, this time measuring 6.3, shook the country around 30 minutes later.
Can the earth in Nepal not stop trembling?
Nepal and its capital Kathmandu are highly exposed to earthquakes. There are often fierce aftershocks in the wake of major tremors like the one experienced on 24 April – magnitude 7.8. This most recent quake was located at the north-eastern edge of the area that ruptured in the last disaster, but it released only an estimated one-fifth of its energy. Nonetheless, there have again been fatalities, and further serious damage has to be expected. Unfortunately, more major quakes are probable in the weeks to come.
Quite apart from the risk of aftershocks: Can earthquakes not be predicted at all?
Sadly no. Only the probability of their occurrence. Nobody in Nepal could have known if the quake would come in one, ten or 40 years. But of course it was known that Kathmandu is a highly endangered area.
So what good does calculating probabilities do?
The hope is that we will keep getting better at assessing the risk, and be able to use that knowledge to prepare better for such catastrophes. Of course, poor countries like Nepal need more time for this – and assistance.
Does it make sense to invest in developing early-warning systems?
Yes. With earthquakes, the possibility of warning people in advance will always be much more limited than, say, with tropical hurricanes, where timely evacuations today repeatedly save numerous lives. In the best case scenario for the future, people will still only have from 10 to 60 seconds to leave their homes in the event of an earthquake, depending on their distance from the epicentre. But trains can be stopped – like in Japan – and critical plants and systems shut down. In a region the likes of Nepal, however, the initial focus is on improving the construction of the buildings, especially of schools and hospitals.
How can risk assessments be improved?
In industrialised nations such as Japan and the US, the risk of earthquakes can be estimated quite well. This is only true in part for emerging nations, and hardly at all for developing ones. Together with scientists, governments and private sector sponsors, we co-founded the Global Earthquake Model initiative a few years ago, which is to create a worldwide risk model. The GEM recently presented its OpenQuake platform, which was created collaboratively by several hundred scientists from all over the planet. It comprises leading-edge methods and data for estimating the risk of earthquakes. It is a freely accessible platform for public authorities and organisations, and the plan is to extend it step by step to encompass all countries. Over the long term, developments of this kind will also help countries like Nepal.