With rescue work still under way in Nepal after Sunday’s deadly earthquake in the Himalayas, scientists have warned that the capital Kathmandu is a high-risk city unprepared for the next “Big One”.
Experts say Kathmandu is one of the most vulnerable cities in the world with an overdue earthquake predicted to kill tens of thousands of people and leave survivors cut off from international aid.
British geologist Dave Petley described the latest tremor, which killed eight people in Nepal, as a “wake-up call” for the overcrowded capital, home to two million people and connected to the outside world by just three roads and one airport runway.
Nepal is a highly seismic region, lying above the collision of the Indian and Eurasian plates that created the Himalayas, and major earthquakes have hit the Kathmandu Valley every 75 years on average over recent centuries.
One quake destroyed a quarter of homes in Kathmandu 77 years ago, and geologists believe the area is at immediate risk of an 8.0-magnitude tremor – ten times the size of last year’s Haiti quake which killed more than 225,000 people.
Kathmandu topped the list of 21 cities with 69,000 potential deaths, ahead of Istanbul and New Delhi.
The Kathmandu Valley has experienced rapid, uncontrolled urbanisation in the past few years and the lack of infrastructure and deep-rooted poverty leave it desperately underprepared for an earthquake, experts say.
According to NSET, if a 7.0 magnitude quake hit Kathmandu, 200,000 people would die, another 200,000 would be severely injured, 1.5 million would be made homeless and 60 percent of homes would be destroyed.
Underlining the dangers, three of the eight deaths in Nepal from Sunday’s quake happened when a wall of the British Embassy compound in Kathmandu collapsed, killing a father, his eight-year-old daughter and another man.
The quake, on the border between India’s Sikkim state and Nepal, killed at least 83 people across the region with emergency teams battling to get to remote communities near the epicentre.