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Wednesday December 01, 2021

PMD head warns tsunami can be triggered along coast any time

October 16, 2021

The Sindh-Makran coast is prone to multiple natural hazards, including cyclones, torrential rains, monsoon depressions and most importantly tsunami, which can be triggered anytime and can cause unprecedented damage in the coastal belt of Pakistan, Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) Director General Muhammad Riaz warned on Thursday.

“The Makran Subduction Zone, which is within 50 kilometres from the Sindh-Makran coast, is like a nuclear weapon present in the sea. It can explode anytime. May be in 10-20 years or maybe tomorrow, who knows? An earthquake of magnitude 8 or above can trigger strong tsunami, which can generate waves as high as 10-15 metres and cause unprecedented damage along the Sindh-Makran coast,” he said while speaking at a workshop on ‘mitigating tsunami risk’ at a local hotel in Karachi.

The workshop was organised by the PMD in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) and Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS). It was attended by representatives of the Pakistan Navy, Pakistan Air Force, Karachi fire department and National Defence along with officials from Balochistan and media personnel.

Karachi Met Office Director Sardar Sarfraz, National Seismic Monitoring and Tsunami Early Warning Centre Director Ameer Hyder, UNDP’s Naeem Iqbal and PMD’s Dr Hayat Khan spoke on various aspects of the tsunami risk mitigation and importance of early warning in case of tsunami and other natural hazards.

The PMD chief maintained that the Sindh-Makran coast had already faced devastation in 1945 when a strong tsunami was caused by an earthquake in the Makran Subduction Zone that killed over 4,000 people in the coastal areas of Makran. He added that the active fault was gaining energy and could result in another powerful tsunami, the time frame for which could not be predicted.

“A subduction zone is like a trench in the sea. The Makran Subduction Zone is around 30 to 50 kilometres away from the Makran coast. If a tsunami is triggered it can hit the coast in five to 30 minutes, which leaves very little time for the coastal community to react,” Riaz explained, adding that in this situation, it was imperative to conduct drills and create awareness among the people about how they should react in case of a tsunami warning.

He maintained that in view of the threat of tsunami at the Sindh-Makran coast, the PMD had established the National Seismic Monitoring and Tsunami Early Warning Centre, Karachi, which was keeping an eye on the seismic activities in the sea.

To a query, he said Gwadar and Makran coast was the most vulnerable area in case of a tsunami generation in the Arabian Sea but waves of a strong tsunami waves could also reach Karachi within 20-30 minutes.

Calling for keeping the threat of tsunami in mind while starting new residential, commercial and other projects in the coastal areas of Pakistan, the PMD chief said buildings should be constructed in such a manner that they could withstand earthquakes and tsunami.

PDMA Sindh Director General Salman Shah said they were aware of the risk of tsunami along the Sindh-Makran coast and they had identified four districts where 14 tsunami early warning systems would be installed and handed over to the PMD.

“But the most important aspect is training and awareness of people. We have thousands of villages along Sindh’s over-315-kilometre-long coast and in case of a tsunami or even a cyclonic storm, they needed to be evacuated within a short of span of time,” he stated.

PRSC Secretary Kanwar Waseem explained the devastation of the December 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, which caused unprecedented destruction and loss of lives in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Maldives and other countries. He added that tsunami was the most dangerous natural disaster, which gave little time to react.

Calling for preparation of a volunteer system to warn the coastal communities in case of a tsunami or storm in the sea, he said we should learn from Bangladesh which was training volunteers and using manual techniques to warn people in case of a complete collapse of communication systems.

Representatives from the media presented their plan to use mainstream electronic, digital and social media to apprise the coastal communities regarding tsunami warning.