17.09.2013 - Natural Sciences Sector

Working together to mitigate earthquake-related risks in South and Central Asia

© J.M. Gassend/ UNESCO Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal

The Himalayas are the top of our world. Their dramatic beauty combines the majestic snow-capped peaks and deeply incised valleys of a (geologically) young mountain range. The very existence of the Himalayan range and its continuous rise is the result of the northward motion of the Indian sub-continent beneath these mountains. Experts have estimated a relative convergence of 25 mm per year between the Indo-Australian and Asian plates, resulting in high risks of earthquakes along the active boundary –the entire Himalayan arc.

Most of South and Central Asia is very active seismically; in fact the earthquake activity is among the highest in the world. Damaging earthquakes have struck throughout the region in recent and ancient times, including “intraplate” earthquakes that strike well away from the active plate boundaries and the deep earthquakes that are common in the Hindu Kush zone.

Earthquakes, and the risks associated to such natural hazards, have no regard for political boundaries. Natural hazards do not have to spell disaster, but in order to prepare and mitigate risks at such a scale it is necessary to develop a synoptic regional understanding based on all of the available data, to understand both the tectonic framework that controls seismic hazard and the potential of future large earthquakes.

This can only be achieved through regional collaboration towards a common goal, providing a critical impetus for knowledge and data sharing. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) and UNESCO joined forces to foster networking among Asian countries by bringing together seismologists, earthquake engineers, and geologists from governmental, academic and other relevant organizations for regular regional workshops on seismology and earthquake engineering.

Over the years, these week-long workshops have facilitated the emergence of a community of practitioners that share their experience and create personal networks and relationships. Scientific and technical communications have developed among this community; the regular meetings contribute greatly to the overall understanding of seismology, the cause and effects of earthquakes and address the need for scientific cooperation to study earthquakes in the region.  

Such a workshop is taking place this week in Kathmandu (Nepal), bringing together over 70 scientists and experts in earthquake risk reduction to discuss a regional cooperation in seismology and earthquake engineering in South and Central Asia, with an emphasis in strong motion monitoring and seismology. The programme includes overviews of monitoring programs in each of the 15 participating countries and opportunities to discuss key issues associated with both strong motion monitoring and engineering seismology.

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