I recently had the pleasure of hosting Din Muhammad Kakar, an earth scientist from the University of Balochistan in Quetta, Pakistan. Since 2008, we have sponsored Din and two other professors from developing countries as members of the Seismological Society of America (SSA). This year Din won the international travel grant to attend the SSA conference and came to America for the first time, where he met with earthquake experts from around the world and later visited the University of Colorado (host: Roger Bilham), Caltech and the USGS (host: Sue Hough), and Stanford and GHI (hosts: Greg Deierlein and me).
I’m inspired by Din’s heroic efforts to raise awareness of earthquake risk in Balochistan, and I want to share his story.
Countering Fatalism with Science
Din Muhammad Kakar began his career as a geologist studying sedimentology in Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province. Over time he learned that Quetta, the provincial capital, and neighboring towns lie in the most active seismic region of Pakistan. Quetta has a history of earthquakes, the most famous of which is the M7.6 earthquake of 1935 that killed roughly 35,000 of the city’s then 50,000 inhabitants. In the wake of that earthquake, the British Raj instituted a building code in 1937 that was followed more or less until 1970, when Quetta’s population boom outstripped the available housing stock, and local government authorities began to approve building designs without consulting code requirements.
Quetta currently has a population of 1.5 million and a downtown densely filled with high rises at risk of collapse in the next earthquake. Din considers Quetta’s modern buildings to be less seismically resistant than those in 1935.
Professor Din Kakar devotes much of his time and energy now to educating the public about its earthquake risk, but he faces significant obstacles. Due to poverty and illiteracy, most people in Balochistan do not understand the severity or cause of their earthquake risk. Nor do they understand that they can reduce this risk. Some clerics advise the people that earthquakes are punishment for their sinful acts.
These factors, Din notes, “keep people in the status quo.” He explains, “we are doing our level best” to educate the public: for the past several years, on the anniversary of the ’35 earthquake, Din has gone on live TV to debate an imam for an hour about the causes of earthquakes. “When I show the slides on television and the other arguments,” he says, “the educated person accepts what I am saying as fact.” He adds, “we should work to convince these imams to interpret Islam in a scientific manner.” Professor Kakar sees his research and public education efforts as serving humanity: “I have an obligation as a human being,” he says, “I know and they don’t.”
To accomplish this work, he takes risks that most of us could not imagine. He needs armed escorts when he installs and services GPS instruments in the areas outside Quetta, along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border. When local authorities refuse to provide security, deeming the destination too dangerous for their own personnel, Din goes alone.
On the eve of his return to Quetta, I asked Din what GHI could do to support his work in Balochistan. He reiterated the urgent need to educate the public about its earthquake risk. He has materials in English on simple and effective earthquake safety measures, but he lacks funds to translate, print and distribute the information. “Our University has a lot of financial crisis,” he explained, “we do not have that much money to print these things and get them out to people.”
If you would like to support Professor Din Muhammad’s public awareness training efforts, then please contact GHI at firstname.lastname@example.org or simply note “Din Muhammad” in the subject line of your online or mailed donation. GHI will ensure that 100% of your support goes to Din.
earthquake risk, but he faces significant obstacles. Due to poverty and illiteracy, most people in Balochistan do not understand the severity or cause of their earthquake risk. Nor do they understand that they can reduce this risk. Some clerics advise the people that earthquakes are punishment for their sinful acts.