Disaster Holds Lessons for China
Scientists urge creation of national program to build tougher houses, improve rescue capacity in regions of highest risk
The devastating Nepal earthquake offers China fresh lessons on how to more effectively protect its citizens and their property in the quake-prone country, Chinese scientists said.
China and Nepal straddle the Mediterranean-Himalaya earthquake belt, a snake-shaped area where many major earthquakes occur.
The Tibet autonomous region, which shares a border with Nepal to the west, suffered casualties in some of its western counties in Saturday's quake. Twenty deaths and 55 injuries were reported on Sunday, and snowy weather made rescue missions difficult.
The aftermath of the magnitude-8.1 quake that hit Nepal suggests that the most urgently needed step toward disaster prevention would be a national program to build tougher houses, scientists said.
Although there are no data indicating disastrous quakes are more frequent now, Gao Mengtan, a scientist at the Institute of Geophysics under the China Earthquake Administration, said that when quakes do happen, they tend to cause heavier human and economic losses.
China's emergency mobilization of resources for disaster rescue and aid missions has improved in recent years, yet there is still much room for improvement in the country's unprecedented urbanization process, said Chen Xuezhong, another researcher at the institute.
Building safety has yet to receive enough attention from the industry, he said.
The Nepal earthquake was the result of the collision of two tectonic plates: the Indian Plate and the Eurasian Plate.
"The energy release in the massive Nepal earthquake has influenced some areas in Tibet and other cities in the western region in China, leaving them affected by earthquakes as well," said Xu Xiwei, deputy head of Institute of Geology.
After the magnitude-9.0 earthquake in Sumatra in 2004, the world has experienced frequent massive earthquakes, including 15 earthquakes of and above magnitude-8.0 and 2 quakes of and above magnitude-9.0, said Jiang Haikun, a researcher in the China Earthquake Network Center.
"But the frequency and intensity of the recent earthquakes did not reach those that occurred in 1950 to '60, so it's not appropriate to say we are in the high-incidence period of earthquakes," Xu said.
Gao, the institute scientist agreed. The earthquakes of magnitude-8.0 and above occurred one to two times annually since 2000. Only a few years had more－like 2007－had more, so there is no increasing trend, he said.
"People get the feeling of experiencing devastating earthquakes more frequently, mainly because there are more massive earthquakes that caused more casualties and larger economic loss," he said, citing the magnitude-7.0 quake in Haiti in 2010, which killed more than 270,000 people.
China has made more efforts in reducing the losses and protecting the people in the quake-hit areas, especially through improved technology, Gao said.
"Using the high technologies, including satellites and drones, China can absorb the information on stricken areas quickly and is able to mobilize the rescue force quickly," he said, suggesting governments need to improve their capacity to organize rescue forces to make their efforts more efficient.
devastating: adj.毁灭性的，灾难性的； 惊人的
straddle: v.叉开腿； 跨坐；横跨
earthquake belt: 地震带
unprecedented: adj.前所未有的，无前例的； 空前的