Power cuts affect accuracy of Kyrgyz seismology forecasts

Up to 3,000 earthquakes strike Kyrgyzstan every year. The most recent occurred on Oct. 19 in the south, and measured 4.5 on the Richter scale.

Tair Shamshiyev

2009-10-27

KYRGYZSTAN — The Institute of Seismology at the Kyrgyz National Academy of Sciences reports that up to 3,000 earthquakes strike Kyrgyzstan every year. The most recent one occurred on Oct. 19 in the south, and measured 4.5 on the Richter scale.

The tremor reminded local residents of the earthquakes of October 2008 that destroyed the mountain village of Nura. The tragedy claimed the lives of more than 80 people, most of them children. Almost all earthquakes occur late at night or in the early morning, before the electricity supply is switched on. Power is cut off at night due to the state of the economy.

The Institute of Seismology forecast that seismic activity this year would be mild. The situation will be different, however, in the south of the country, where earthquakes measuring up to 6.0 on the Richter scale could occur before the end of this year.

Institute Director Kanatbek Abdrakhmatov is convinced that three quarters of homes in rural areas would collapse in the event of a powerful earthquake. Experts at the Institute have called for the region’s seismic activity to be taken into account when building homes, but not all inhabitants in southern regions can afford to buy high quality building materials. Earthquake-resistant homes cost 40 percent more to build than non-resistant ones.

The Institute recorded just 588 earthquakes over the past eight months in Kyrgyzstan, whereas 2,500 occurred last year during the same period. “This lull is dangerous, because it means that a major earthquake is probably on its way,” Abdrakhmatov says.

Earthquake detection stations play an important role in developing forecasts. Norsar, a Norwegian seismological organisation, is currently assisting with efforts to upgrade Kyrgyzstan’s 24 detection stations. The main problem, however, is that the accuracy of seismological readings is compromised by rolling blackouts in areas with detection stations, which may have incalculable effects on estimates of which regions are likely to be most affected by the next quake.

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