The Narendra Modi Government’s ‘look North-East’ policy could not have come at a more opportune time for this earthquake-prone, rugged terrain.
We now have a Minister in charge of the development of the region, who could take a hard look at the vulnerabilities and options available.
Among these, those pertaining to natural hazards cry for attention; nobody can ignore the notes of caution sounded through occasional rumbles by Mother Nature here.
Projections are hardly encouraging for a scenario where a hypothetical earthquake with an intensity of Magnitude7 (M7) on the Richter scale strikes Aizawl, capital of Mizoram.
The GeoHazards Society India, a leading NGO, has brought out a document titled ‘Effects of a Magnitude 7 earthquake on Aizawl, Mizoram, and recommendations to reduce losses.’
It lays bare the implications for the city in graphic detail. GeoHazards International and reinsurance major Munich Re collaborated in bringing out the document in coordination with the Mizoram Department of Disaster Management and Rehabilitation.
Aizawl is a city that should never have been located where it is, far removed from any water source. Even today, water is pumped up several kilometers from the Tlang River.
It grew around a British Army base stationed there to bring peace between warring Mizo tribes. As a city, it has housed almost a third of the population over the last few decades.
Aizawl was hardly affected by the last major earthquake (M8.6) to affect the North-East on Independence Day, 1950.
Not entirely surprising, because most Mizo people then lived in traditional timber homes on the tops of ridges where earthquakes could do little harm to them.
But today, the city stands at the threshold of major growth, with a master plan that sees the population doubling in the next 20 years.
A quake of the same intensity could prove devastating today as described in the scenario — though this is far from a being prediction.
The choice the community here faces is a serious one, says the document.
Hills, valleys and recurring landslides provide evidence of ongoing geologic processes that bend and buckle the layers of rock beneath the city, shaping the landscape, and causing earthquakes.
A plausible M7 could cause extensive damage, destroy buildings, render useless utility systems and roads, cause thousands of casualties, and set back Mizoram’s economic development.
The shaking would trigger hundreds of landslides, the severity of which would grow several-fold if it happens during a monsoon, causing new slides and reactivating existing ones.
The road connecting Aizawl to Silchar and the rest of India passes through several known landslide-prone areas and will most likely be unusable for several weeks.
Aizawl’s water supply, pumped up from the river that passes through several landslide-prone areas, is expected to break in 50 or more locations.
Adding to this is the interdependencies of these critical systems. Water pumping needs electricity; electricity supply can be restored only by replacing damaged equipment, which depends on roads being cleared.
The few emergency generators need fuel ferried on lorries. Thus, Aizawl will be cut off from the rest of the country without water, food, and electricity.
The document recommends steps that authorities in Aizawl need to undertake on the highest priority, especially with respect to land use and building regulations.
Aizawl needs focused attention and extensive technical support from the Centre to pull it back from the brink of a catastrophic disaster, it adds.