Most people who live in Central Asia are too young to remember the devastating earthquakes from the past.
Although all Central Asian countries are characterized by high seismic risk, the region has seen few destructive earthquakes in recent decades.
But in 1966, Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital, was leveled by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake. Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, was partially destroyed in 1948 with up to 176,000 deaths reported.
While the prospect of a powerful earthquake remains highly likely, the region is also victim to a flurry of smaller tragedies that don’t typically make international headlines. Last year, Tajikistan suffered over 1,000 mudslides, floods, avalanches and small earthquakes. These cost the country dozens of millions of dollars worth of damage.
The bad news is things are likely to get worse. With climate change, demographic growth, urbanization, and accelerating industrial and agricultural development, most experts agree that these events are set to become more frequent and intense.
According to the World Bank, for instance, temperatures in the Central Asia region could rise by up to 6 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. That could cause more than a third of Central Asian glaciers to melt by 2050, exposing nearby villages to glacial floods.
In spite of these alarming prospects, most experts warn that people, buildings and governments are insufficiently prepared. I have been to so many missions and events where that observation was made.
From Turkmenistan to Tajikistan, risk assessments often underestimate the probability and cost of impacts such as utility outages, displaced households and accumulation of debris.
Uncoordinated data makes it difficult to understand which areas are critically exposed. And emergency units within governments are often limited by narrow mandates and capabilities.