Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Seismic Activity in Pakistan

The October 8th Earthquake has triggered off unprecedented seismic activity in Pakistan. Since the devastating earthquake, there have been over a thousand aftershocks and more than 250 of them measured 4.5+ on the Richter scale. This is freaky enough and then there are reports of increased seismic/volcanic-like activity in the Allai region in NWFP. This was the main story on the Daily Times today.

The reports from Allai, a community of some 150,000 people in the NWFP’s Battagram district, are being taken seriously. The military ordered a seismic survey of the area a few days ago, and while the team has reported that volcanic activity is ‘unlikely’, the evacuation is still going ahead as a precaution. Locals believe that the mysterious smoke and a series of unexplained, loud blasts heard frequently in the area, sometimes at intervals of only a few hours, are the result of volcanic activity deep within the mountains.

Fazl Rabbani of the National Centre of Excellence in Geology at Peshawar University is conducting a more detailed geological survey of Allai with a team of experts and told IRIN on Saturday: "I don’t see a possibility of volcanic activity, but we would like to see first-hand the fissures and cracks appearing in the mountain’s face, the water which people say has changed colour and the smoke from the mountain."


Just a couple of days ago, I had read this piece, which discusses mud volcanoes:

Mud volcanoes, according to Australian vulcanologist John Seach who runs a website on volcanoes, are not true volcanoes of the more common magmatic fiery, lava-spitting kind. They occur when mud and sand under the surface are squeezed upwards by compressive forces and expelled at the surface, particularly along zones of weakness or fractures in the Earth’s crust. The attendant phenomena of mud volcanoes include explosion, clouds of smoke, bubbling of water, outburst of mud, and the discharge and ignition of emitted gas (usually inert carbon dioxide or methane).

According to a German scientist, G. Delisle, who has researched extensively on mud volcanoes in Pakistan recently, there are two known groups of mud volcanoes. These are located onshore along the moderately seismic active Makran coast in Balochistan. They are known as the Chandragup mud volcanoes, which spewed gas that self-ignited following the 1945 quake, and the Jebel-u-Ghurab mud volcanoes nearby.

The good news is that mud volcanoes are generally not considered to be dangerous, and in some countries like Azerbaijan where the gas eruptions from mud volcanoes are more frequent and violent than those in Pakistan, they are actually a tourist attraction. Since the local experts have ruled out the chance of any volcanic activity in Alai, could the phenomenon reported by villagers in Alai be akin to that of a mud volcano, although there does not seem to be any reported existence of mud volcanoes in northern Pakistan?

There are, however, thermal or hot springs in northern Pakistan, another surface manifestation of tectonic movements beneath the Earth. (Like mud volcanoes, hot springs have also become well known tourist attractions in many countries.)

These might just turn out to be mud-volcanoes and hopefully they would. But given this sudden rise in underground activity in Pakistan - will we awaken to the possible threat and take some precautionary measures at least? There is a lot of talk these days about building guidelines and contingency plans and all that relief management stuff. But I wonder if all of this interest would last? Or would it all die off in a few months time and we will be back to normal? Maybe we ought to look at means by which we can sustain interest in all of these activities- so that the government, the builders et al. don't forget it all. Precaution is the only way to prepare against any similar recurrence.

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On a tangential note. The official death toll from the earthquake has jumped to 73,000! I had to pinch myself, when I heard that. This means that the causality count is higher than the injured count, which stands at 69,000. And this is even before the winter has properly set it. God forbid any further deaths. These have been crippling enough.

But I have been wondering about one thing. We have been hearing that if further deaths have to be prevent there is an immediate need for thousands of tents And these tents haven't been forthcoming- the national production capacity has been fully over-stretched and the international supply is struggling to keep up. In the light of all this - why can't the affected and the relief workers just start setting up small huts? Start clearing up the debris and reconstructing already! We don't need to import cements and bricks and all those things needed to rebuild, do we? So why are we just sitting there crying that there aren't enough tents to go around?! Wouldn't your basic instinct tell you to rebuild from whatever you can scavenge from the debris? Its nearly been a month now - and why are people still waiting for outside help? If they haven't bothered to show well then forget them and move on with life! That's better than dying in the cold, isn't it?! All you need is some sort of shelter and that doesn't necessarily need to be imported. :\