The year 2012 started with a bad omen for the residents of Karachi as mild tremors shook a large number of south-eastern areas of the city in the wee hours of Monday.
The intensity of the tremors was very low, but jolts were felts in several areas including the Jinnah International Airport, Ibrahim Hyderi, Quaidabad, Gulshan-e-Hadeed, Sachal Goth, Rehri Goth, Malir, Korangi Industrial Area, Korangi, Shah Faisal Town, Gulistan-e-Jauhar, Ghaghar Phattak and fisherfolk settlements along the coastal belt.
The jolts were felt after midnight when the majority of the people were sleeping. People woke up in many areas and rushed outside in panic.
The Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) Sindh was clueless about the intensity of the earthquake on the Richter scale, as the National Seismic Monitoring and Early Tsunami Warning Centre of the PMD Sindh set by the Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) are not operational.
“I felt the jolts too, but as the monitoring centre is not functioning, we were unable to record the location and intensity of the earthquake,” PMD Sindh chief meteorologist Naeem Shah told Pakistan Today.
“We have informed the PMD Islamabad and PMD director general many times about this,” he added.
A recent research study conducted by joint teams of different international organisations and the PMD revealed that Karachi faces a high earthquake risk as the city lies on one major and four minor fault lines, about 150-km east of the triple junction between the Arabian, Indian, and Asian plates.
But despite that, the federal or provincial governments have taken no precautionary measures so far. Many areas of the city are not covered by the PMD and minor seismic activities are not recorded properly due to the absence of short-period seismometers.
Minor jolts in the south-eastern parts of the city are normal and they largely go unnoticed. But sometimes, many people feel low intensity jolts as these areas lie either on the river bed or land reclaimed from sea land. The building control rules in the city are also entirely neglected. Therefore, mild jolts are felt very strongly in these areas.
Recorded history reveals that the residents of Karachi felt the 1945 Makran (Balochistan) and 2001 Bhuj (India) earthquakes, and also irregular jolts of 4-5 Richter scale earthquakes on faults north and northwest of the city. But no earthquake has ever produced documented damage in Karachi.
But despite that, experts say that the government should set up a proper system and bound the PMD to record every seismic activity in the city.
In the past, earthquake-monitoring stations were working in Khuzdar, Quetta, Peshawar, Islamabad and Karachi, but they were following an old style manual operation pattern and were unable to inform about an earthquake 30 minutes before it occurs.
But after 2004 when a tsunami hit the Indonesian island Sumatra and later in 2005 when an earthquake devastated the northern parts of Pakistan, the PMD set up an early tsunami warning centre in Karachi in 2008. However, it is not functioning at the moment.