The report entitled “Giant earthquake in Bangladesh could jeopardise millions, make Dhaka unliveable, research says”, published in 12 July 2016, has stirred up panic and controversy in the public domain. The report is based on a research paper entitled “Locked and loading megathrust linked to active subduction beneath the Indo-Burman Ranges” published recently in the online journal Geoscience nature.

While the paper is based on the research of a group of geoscientists with upscale technologies like GPS, the interpretations as published in the paper have been overly conjectural. For example, the position of the plate boundary shown as mega thrust has been shifted west to a significant distance and is placed to run right underneath Dhaka. There is no geological evidence to justify the existence the mega thrust running through the Bengal plain and Dhaka city as shown in the paper. It is only a conjecture that geoscientists may put forward. More importantly, making predictions of an unprecedented mega-disaster based on such conjectural elements is not acceptable.

The report quoted one of the co-authors of the paper, an academician in Bangladesh as follows:

“Mud that has accumulated some 12 miles (19 km) deep in the delta of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers could shake like gelatin, and liquefy in many places, sucking in buildings, roads and people,” said co-author in a statement.
The above statement is not only unrealistic, but sounds like end-of-times fantasy. None of the deep oil and gas wells drilled in the Ganges Brammaputra delta encountered 19 kilometers of mud. In the subsurface the rocks down to about 5 kilometers were drilled, and these were found to be hard rock layers, including alternating sandstone and mudstone (shale). Liquefaction is a fact of earthquake geology, but not to the extent the statement suggests.
Bangladesh is positioned in the vicinity of a tectonic plate junction and is therefore likely to be more earthquake prone than an average area. But the report has been monstrously over-emphatic in its judgement of risk in Dhaka city. The suggestion that “giant earthquake would make Dhaka unlivable” is also overly pessimistic and gives a negative signal to an aspiring mass of people who are struggling to be industrially prosperous.

We appreciate academic research which links important national issues, disaster-related or otherwise, but one should be more cautious in publicly commenting on the results and interpretation of scientific research. Scientific hypothesis or conjectures should not be translated into a pointed practical prediction that would spread panic among public unnecessarily.

The author is a Professor in the Department of Geology, University of Dhaka