Corruption and Disaster

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The Nepal earthquake is a reminder the Northeast must prepare too for the worst, though without giving up expecting the best. The region falls within the same Himalayan earthquake fault line as Nepal, and indeed, the tremor that devastated Nepal was felt strongly across the region too, not the least in Manipur. Thankfully though, in Manipur according to news reports, only one government school building and some other government structures, including at the RIMS and JNIMS, suffered minor damages. Quite miraculously, there were also no casualties reported. This does not however mean the place can be complacent. According to forecasts by scientists, the Nepal earthquake is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg, for the tectonic impact tension between the Indian and Asian tectonic plates has mounted up to a frightful level, and if released at once, can cause earthquakes in the excess of 9 on the Richter scale. The forecast is also that a series of less severe earthquakes can ease this tension, but it will take several earthquakes as the one Nepal just experienced to neutralise the entire currently mounting tension. If on the other hand, all of the tension is released at one go, the resultant earthquake can be as much as 32 times as strong as the recent tremor, and this would be disastrous for the entire Himalayan region, including the Northeast. The tension is destined to be released sometime, though in terms of geological time, it could be this century or the next, scientists say. In other words, it could happen anytime between now and the next two hundred years. We can only hope that mounting tectonic tension is released in several smaller, less devastating earthquakes, and not in any single or very few instances.

There is nothing much for anybody to do to prevent earthquakes from happening. They will ultimately happen in our region. What on the other hand can be done is to prepare for earthquake eventualities. We are not talking about the old drills the government once encouraged of keeping first aid boxes, ropes and torches ready in the house. These are necessary, but by no means primary. What is needed first and foremost is for the government to ensure construction qualities of its buildings. Manipur`™s legions of engineers must be set to work and shoulder the responsibility of evolving earthquake resistant construction engineering as well as construction materials. Equally important, the vigils on government contract works, from which result not fine public buildings, but expensive private cars and palatial private residencies, must be made uncompromisingly strict. The town planning agenda must also be reformed radically. There have been so many visiting writers who have referred to Imphal as a city of ugly buildings. This is bad enough, but we are not here talking about aesthetics, though important, and instead of safety. Imphal`™s maze of narrow lanes which can be jammed even by two vehicles passing each other must be widened mandatorily. In equal earnest, old dilapidated buildings in congested bazaars must not be left to stand, and new ones must be made to stick to strict safety standards. If these precautions are for townships in the plains, a set of suitable precautions must also be worked out for the hill towns. The soil in the state, and indeed the whole of Himalayan region is supposed to be comparatively young, therefore the topsoil is thick. This may be good support for vegetation, but not for heavy constructions, therefore the need for a set of precautions unique to the environment.

The government, and indeed the entire population, must begin acting responsibly immediately in these matters so that the state is not left with the prospect of bolting the stable after the horses have fled. It should be taken note that earthquakes in developed nations never result in as big as disasters as when they strike poorer, corruption ridden nations. No prizes for guessing that the difference is all about preparedness, and not selective viciousness of nature. Reports say of the many earthquake prone developing nations, Turkey which also has a history of devastating earthquakes, is the best prepared, and this because of the sustained discipline and rigour with which its government in recent times has been enforcing safety standards in public and private constructions, as well as city planning. It is curious how corruption and disaster are ultimately directly linked, and this being the case, corrupt Manipur must change its ways immediately for its own security.

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam

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