Kashmir susceptible to major quakes


Source: SciDev.Net

Data gathered using Global Positioning Systems (GPS) suggest that India’s Jammu and Kashmir state could be in for an earthquake of greater intensity than previously expected.

Presenting the results of a new study at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union at San Francisco on 7 December, US geologist Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado said Kashmir could be hit by a quake with a magnitude of up to 9 on the Richter scale.

'The largest we estimated before was 8 beneath the Pir Pinjal (range),' Bilham told SciDev.Net.

Bilham advised planning for the 'worst case,' though he could not predict when an earthquake might strike. 'We are not forecasting an earthquake. We are merely indicating how big it could be.'

A major earthquake, Bilham said, could trigger landslides big enough to block the Jhelum river and flood the entire Kashmir valley. The Himalayan state has a population of 12.5 million according to the 2011 census figures.

Mohammad Ismail  Bhat,  former head of geology and geophysics at the University of Kashmir and a participant of the study, said earlier assessments were made on the basis of historical data and GPS readings from adjacent areas, including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tibet.

'But since 2007 we collected data across Kashmir through eight permanent stations and ten campaign mode stations.' He said that substantial stress accumulation was found in the Zanskar region of Ladakh, north of Srinagar, with an annual  southward movement of 16 millimetres.

Sushil Kumar, senior scientist at the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, Dehradun, told SciDev.Net that major earthquakes occurred in the Himalayan region in 1897, 1905, 1934 and 1950. 'Since 1950 no major earthquake reaching a magnitude of 8 has hit the Himalayan region. The energy may be accumulating.'  

'But we can say that earthquakes in western Himalayas are sourced at a shallow level — and therefore more intense — while those in the eastern Himalayas are sourced at the lower crust and have less intensity,' he said.

Kumar said studies of the September earthquake in Sikkim in the eastern Himalayas and the 2005 earthquake in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-administered Kashmir corroborated this view.    

Ghulam Mohammad Dar, faculty head at Kashmir’s Disaster Management Centre, said that despite the devastating quake in Muzaffarabad 'disaster preparedness in Kashmir is not satisfactory and a lot needed to be done.'

Dar said that in a number of villages and towns across Kashmir people were building new houses without adopting earthquake-resistant techniques. “I would suggest a building code to which people strictly adhere.”

'There should be preparedness at all levels. Disaster management plans should be made at ward and district levels and training imparted to police, civil defence and health officials,' he added.


ICTs could fill agricultural extension gap, says meeting

A severe lack of extension workers in Sub-Saharan Africa could be partially filled by new information and communication technology (ICT) tools, a conference on extension innovations was told.

Africa has one extension worker per 4,000 farmers, compared with one per 200 hundred farmers in developed countries, the conference, Innovations in Extension and Advisory Services: Linking Knowledge to Policy and Action for Food and Livelihoods, heard last month (15-18 November).

But this gap could now be narrowed through the use of ICT tools including mobile phones, the internet and iPods, combined with more traditional media, such as radio.

Michael Hailu, director of the Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation, in the Netherlands, said that, even where there is no shortage of extension personnel and funds, smart use of ICTs can help deliver knowledge in real time to farmers, especially in poorly staffed and remote corners of Africa.

'The continent must try to be as innovative as possible and exploit the growing mobile communications sector to deliver knowledge,' he said. 'ICTs such as mobile phones are helping farmers to increase production, discover new markets for their produce and gain access to new knowledge and technologies.'

The conference declaration called for a greater use of ICTs and the media in the provision of advisory and extension services, which should also take into account culture and gender issues.

But Hailu cautioned that it would be a big risk for governments to continue neglecting recruitment of extension services workers, because ICTs could not fill all the needed services.

Hannington Odame, director of the Centre for African Bio-Entrepreneurship, in Kenya, also pointed out that ICT usage has its limits and that training farmers and agro-stockists would help meet needs.

'ICTs can only provide information on straightforward things or offer static information, but where follow-ups are required and the needs of farmers are varied, you cannot help but use personnel,' Odame said. 'This may come in the form of well-trained farmers or even stockists who sell chemicals and inputs to farmers.'

He said diverse sources of information were needed to enable farmers to attain maximum productivity and profitability, a consideration that may call for setting up a farmer information system.

Mary Kamau, director of extension and training in Kenya's agriculture ministry, said the country had established the National Agriculture Information System under the National Agriculture and Livestock Extension Program, where farmers can access information from their mobile phones through toll-free numbers.

Investment in agriculture extension services needs to increase to 3.5 per cent of the agriculture gross domestic product (GDP), according to Magdalena Blum, of the Food and Agricultural Organization's Office of Knowledge Exchange, Research and Extension.

She added that no African government is spending even a tenth of the recommended 3.5 per cent, even though agriculture continues to contribute more than 30 per cent of the continent's GDP.

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