The threat of earthquakes

THE rocky town of Kwoi in Jaba Local Government Area of Kaduna State,  on 20 September 2016, experienced earth tremors which rendered many homeless, while businesses and commercial activities were grounded to a halt. A tour by the North West management team of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the Federal Government agency responsible for managing emergencies, revealed that about 300 houses were affected as a result of the second tremor.

The first tremor occurred on September 9, 2016. During the event, residents ran helter-skelter as they had never experienced such in the history of the town. Meanwhile, preliminary results by geologists affirmed that what was initially presumed to be tremors were actually earthquakes.  From the findings, it was discovered that the earthquakes were of about 2.0 magnitude. When the earthquakes occurred, community leaders hurriedly informed state authorities of the development. The Kaduna State governor, Malam Nasir El-Rufai, promptly directed the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) to mobilise to the area and comfort the  citizens. He also notified and invited the National Geological Agency to investigate the tremors in the area.

While the tremors in Kaduna State seem to be the most significant, similar tremors have occurred in Oyo, Bayelsa and Rivers states this year. In Bayelsa State, communities such as Igbogene, Akenfa, Akinima, and Akie-Oniso (Oruama) were affected.  In neighbouring Rivers State, One Man Country and Mbiama experienced the heavy vibrations. Some communities in Saki West Council Area of Oyo State such as Medina, Balako, Salam Salam, Dauru-Salam as well as parts of Oke-suna experienced similar tremors a few months ago.

On September 10, 2016, a 5.9-magnitude earthquake hit northwestern Tanzania, killing 11 people and leaving at least 192 people injured.  The earthquake struck near Nsunga town 43km from Bukoba, a city on the western shore of Lake Victoria. The tremors with a depth of 10km were felt as far away as western Kenya and parts of Uganda, which share the waters of Lake Victoria, and also in Kigali, Rwanda. These incidences have shown that Africa is more likely to be prone to earthquakes in the future. What this means is that the Nigerian authorities and authorities elsewhere in Africa must begin to consider earthquakes as a local reality. It means that appropriate preparedness for earthquakes must be achieved in the shortest possible time.

Earthquakes are common occurrences; trembling and shaking of the earth’s surface occurs thousands of times every day. But because major earthquakes are less common in Africa, many countries are ill prepared. In major earthquake-prone areas like Indonesia, Mexico, Ecuador, India, Pakistan, Japan, Turkey and Nepal, a culture of preparedness has been developed.  Earthquake has caused immense devastation to human lives and property. It has indeed ruined the lives of millions of people all over the world and rendered hundreds of thousands of people homeless. Earthquake is also a major cause of tsunamis and volcanic eruptions in several areas, causing further damage. There is no monitoring device to predict it beforehand.

Suggestions that unusual animal behaviour prior to a significant earthquake can be a means of predicting earthquakes remain questionable, according to science. Only anecdotal evidence abounds of animals, fish, birds, reptiles, and insects exhibiting strange behaviour anywhere from weeks to seconds before an earthquake. Given this situation, therefore, Nigeria must have an earthquake readiness policy and encourage those who live in seismic zones to develop a plan. There should also be measures taken to ensure that buildings and structures in such zones are designed in such a way that they take into account the implications of an earthquake. The emergency management agencies at various levels must develop the capacity and be equipped to respond to such situations in the relevant parts of the country.

The embarrassments that have occurred with the poor handling of internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps in the North East provide ample evidence that Nigeria lacked preparedness to deal with IDPs.  A comprehensive effort must therefore be made to ensure that such embarrassing situations as children dying of starvation in the camps, this time around from natural disasters, do not occur in future.  The threat of earthquakes and the increasing occurrence of natural disasters make effective emergency preparedness an imperative. Nigeria must learn lessons from countries that have developed a culture of precaution and preparedness and seek help to develop local capacity where it is required.