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The Delhi Metro Is Prepared For An Earthquake, Almost No One Else Is

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By IndiaSpend Team:

At least 38 Indian cities lie in high-risk seismic zones; nearly 60% of the sub continental landmass is vulnerable to earthquakes and other than rare exceptions, such as the Delhi Metro, India’s hastily-built cities are open to great damage from earthquakes.

Photo Credit
Photo Credit

The earthquake that devastated the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal and jolted northern India, damaging buildings as far apart as Agra and Siliguri, was expected by geologists, who have warned of more Himalayan earthquakes, caused by the growing pressures of the subcontinent grinding into the Asian mainland.


The metro is prepared, almost no one else is

Very few buildings in India meet the standards prescribed in ‘Indian Standard Criteria for Earthquake Resistant Design’, first published by the Bureau of Indian Standards in 1962, the latest revision being in 2005. These are not enforced, so almost no one knows such earthquake-resistant standards and guidelines for home-owners exist.

The Delhi Metro is one of the few Indian structures built to withstand a quake. Many of the houses built in Bhuj after the Gujarat quake of 2001 are now earthquake-resistant. A rare building and high-rise may be designed for quakes.

But nothing has changed since 1993, when a relatively mild earthquake of magnitude 6.4 in Maharashtra’s Latur district killed nearly 10,000 people, in what was considered a non-seismic zone. Most died because shoddily constructed houses collapsed at the first major shake, as they did in Gujarat eight years later.

The government of India today lists 38 cities in moderate to high-risk seismic zones. “Typically, the majority of the constructions in these cities are not earthquake-resistant,” notes a 2006 report written by the United Nations for the ministry of home affairs. “Therefore in the event of an earthquake, one of these cities would become a major disaster.”

How earthquakes occur

The earth’s landmasses ride like gigantic rafts on ‘plates’, or sections of the earth’s outermost layer, the crust. These plates frequently slip and slide, causing earthquakes. We don’t feel the small ones. The big ones, literally, shake us up. The US Geological Survey (USGS) explains on its website how the magnitude of an earthquake, as measured on the Richter scale, can be greatly out of proportion to its energy and potential for devastation.

The magnitude scale is really comparing amplitudes of waves on a seismogram, not the STRENGTH (energy) of the quakes,says the USGS. “So, a magnitude 8.7 is 794 times bigger than a 5.8 quake as measured on seismograms, but the 8.7 quake is about 23,000 times STRONGER than the 5.8! Since it is really the energy or strength that knocks down buildings, this is really the more important comparison. This means that it would take about 23,000 quakes of magnitude 5.8 to equal the energy released by one magnitude 8.7 event.”

Why north India is on shaky ground

The Himalayas and north India are on particularly shaky ground. Sometime in the geological past, before humans, India broke off from an ancient super continent called Gondwana, a name still used for what is now Chhattisgarh.


The Indian plate skewed north, displaced an ancient sea, travelled more than 2,000 km – the fastest a plate has ever moved – and slammed into the Eurasian plate, creating the Himalayas, where you can still find sea shells.

The great, northward grind continues

India still grinds northeast into Asia at roughly 5 cm every year. The last significant – but not geologically significant – quake in this area was the 2005 temblor in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, which sits directly atop the clashing Indian and Eurasian plates. About 80,000 died. About 60% of India is vulnerable to earthquakes caused by the great, northward grind of the Indian sub continental landmass.

Image Credit: Wikimedia/Arun Ganesh
Image Credit: Wikimedia/Arun Ganesh
Source: Lok Sabha; Note:Modified Mercalli intensity measures the impact of earthquakes on the surface of the earth.
Source: Lok Sabha; Note:Modified Mercalli intensity measures the impact of earthquakes on the surface of the earth.

India’s earthquakes since Independence

The only serious earthquake that modern India remembers is the temblor that killed about 20,000 in Gujarat in 2001. The 2004 tsunami, which resulted from the third-most severe quake ever recorded, 9.3 on the Richter scale, occurred when the Indian plate slid with greater violence than it normally does under the neighbouring Burma plate, upon which rest the Andaman and Nicobar islands. It caused a 100-km-long rupture in the crust, thrusting the seafloor upwards and pushing up masses of water, setting off tsunamis that killed 230,000 people in 14 countries.

Source: National Crime Records Bureau
Source: National Crime Records Bureau

No Indian city has yet been hit, but risks, history serve warning

No Indian metropolis has witnessed a serious earthquake, although Delhi lies in high-risk seismic zone 4. Srinagar and Guwahati are in the highest-risk zone 5; Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata lie in zone 3. History serves warning that a big one may come at any time. Those lessons come from Bihar in 1934 and Assam in 1950.

Although its epicentre was 10 km south of Mount Everest, the Bihar earthquake of 1934 was felt from Mumbai to Lhasa, flattening almost all major buildings in many Bihar districts and damaging many in Calcutta. At 8.4 on the Richter scale, it was pretty severe, killing more than 8,100 (Mahatma Gandhi said it was punishment for the sin of untouchability).

The 1950 Assam earthquake, may have geologically set the stage for a really big one in the Himalayas, according to geologists. Now that 65 years have passed, it may be time for a big one. “India has had five moderate earthquakes (Richter Magnitudes ~6.0-6.4) since 1988 as reminders to improve the earthquake preparedness of the country. And, historically, some of the great earthquakes (Richter Magnitudes >8.0) have occurred in India and that too four in the last 115 years,” a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology (Kanpur), wrote in 2000.

The world seismic community has taken advantage of the experiences from these events, but we in India have paid no heed to these reminders. Today, the number of persons interested in improving the earthquake preparedness in the country is effectively very small. Moreover, most of these persons are in the academia.”

(You can check the Indian Meteorological Department’s website for the latest earthquake reports.)

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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