It is over three weeks since the December 26 earthquake triggered a killer tsunami. As survivors now mourn the dead and come to terms with the loss of life and property, the lessons offered by such cataclysmic events have not been taken seriously enough by much of South Asia. Such events are eye-openers for others living on natural disaster prone areas. Geologists have identified that certain locations are prone to natural upheavals that result in large-scale destruction of life and property. One such geologically active area is the Himalayan belt on which rests Nepal. Such a location makes it vulnerable to earthquakes, as amply experienced in the past. Geologists warn that a major earthquake will shake this region as the energy built up in the earth’s belly needs to be diffused, triggering a massive quake. Kathmandu and Pokhara are sitting on a ticking time bomb.

Man cannot thwart the dangers that nature occasionally exposes him to. But the effect of such dangers can be minimised to a significant extent by adopting precautionary measures. Earthquake per se are not as destructive as the crumbling physical infrastructure built by man. But even after knowing well that a big tremor will almost wipe out the Valley’s population because the haphazardly constructed rickety households will easily give way to the tremors, people have turned a deaf ear to the danger such homesteads pose. Instead, real estate business is booming and construction of such edifices increasing even when other businesses have taken a nose dive. Loss of human lives would have been insignificant in Kobe, Gujarat or Turkey had it not been for the insecure buildings and mud houses. Kathmandu’s story will not be any different from that of Bam in Iran, if not worse. Because safety measures cannot be dictated, public awareness alone can come to the rescue of the people.

Earthquakes have done considerable damage in the past, including the big one that struck Nepal and northern India in 1934 that killed over 17,000 when the population was marginally small and house density thin. Important as it is to adopt earthquake resistant measures in constructing houses, it is important to equip a metropolis like Kathmandu city with a swift disaster management and relief agency. Sadly, such an agency has only been a subject of discussion. The less said about the poor state, say, of the firefighting agencies in the city, the better. Although relief agencies can only help save lives after the initial damage, they are nonetheless indispensable. But so is the people’s attitude to embrace sound building measures. Any extra cost incurred in that process does not go in vain. And it is never too late to adopt appropriate principles. The best time to start is now.