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SCIENCE REPORT- September 13, 2001: Earthquake Threat in the Himalayas - 2001-09-12

This is the VOA Special English Science Report.

American and Indian scientists say new evidence shows that India and nearby countries are in danger of suffering a huge earthquake in the future.

A recent study found rock activity and pressure under the Himalayan Mountains and the Tibetan plateau. The researchers say there is evidence that such pressure has been eased in the past only through great earthquakes.

Researchers from the University of Colorado and the Indian Institute for Astrophysics reported the study in the publication “Science.” They say the pressures in the rock under the ground will continue to increase as the land pushes into Asia. Scientists say the land is moving about two meters every one-hundred years. This continued movement of rock against rock causes many small earthquakes.

One researcher says parts of the Himalayas have not had a major earthquake for at least five-hundred years. The last major Himalayan earthquake took place in the Indian state of Assam in Nineteen-Fifty. It measured eight point five on the Richter Scale. It was one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded. The new study says another similar earthquake in the area would threaten about fifty-million people. That is because the number of people in the Ganges plain just south of the mountains has grown ten times in the past one-hundred years. Such an earthquake would endanger major cities in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. Researchers say at least two-hundred-thousand people might die in such an earthquake.

The researchers say the governments in those countries need to strengthen buildings to prepare for the possibility of such an event. They say new earthquake- resistant building designs should be taken very seriously.

They also say that it appears the changes meant to strengthen buildings have not reduced the number of people killed in a major earthquake. For example, the earthquake in the western Indian city of Bhuj in January killed about twenty-thousand people. That earthquake also was caused by the earth’s movement. But it did nothing to ease the pressure hundreds of kilometers to the north and east that could produce an even stronger earthquake.

This VOA Special English Science Report was written by Nancy Steinbach.