/ 9 December 2005

Quake a ‘wake-up call’ for Africa

Seismologists have warned that East and Central Africa will be struck by natural disasters such as earthquakes, mudslides and volcanic eruptions in the near future, but that countries in the region remain ill-prepared for catastrophes.

A powerful earthquake struck the region on Monday afternoon, causing panic in at least six countries. Near its epicentre in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), at least one child died and many people were injured when mud huts collapsed on top of them.

“Thank God this earthquake hit in a sparsely populated area. If it had happened closer to one of the major cities, the consequences would have been too terrible to contemplate,” said Professor Norbert Opiyo-Aketch, a geologist and the head of the faculty of science at the University of Nairobi.

The earthquake measured 6,8 on the Richter scale, with the epicentre in the eastern DRC, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. On October 8, a quake measuring 7,5 killed about 74 000 people in Pakistan and Kashmir.

Tremors from the latest earthquake were felt in Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and Angola, and in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi — almost 1 000km from the epicentre.

People spilled on to the streets of affected cities, when buildings shook and swayed as the tremors spread across East and Central Africa.

Kenyan presidential spokesperson Alfred Mutua was adamant, however, that authorities had “monitored” the situation and had been prepared for “any eventuality”.

But on Nairobi’s streets, in the aftermath of the panic, office workers criticised the authorities’ response.