The disastrous tsunamis and earthquakes trigger inquiry and inspire fear in us to understand the earth. It was only recently, when some of these events shook the world out of the torpor that it was in. Now, we are curious to understand the system and its integration with the other systems. But, how far have we been successful in achieving all that.
I will quote an Indian example, a country with over a billion population, is prone to almost all kinds of natural disasters, still the geo-science education is poorly represented in schools, colleges and universities. India has no earth science curriculum for schools! Only, students at their undergraduate level are exposed to a meaningful earth science degree course. Merely, a few universities offer full geology degree courses. In fact the well-known technological institutes called the IIT’s (Indian Institute of Technology) have a very limited geology education curriculum representation. Out of a total of sixteen IITs, only four offer full degree courses in geology. It must be noted that nine IITs have recently been added to this list and only one amongst these offer geology programs!
It reflects the sorry state of affairs of earth science is in a country, which should offer strong earth science education programs, primarily, because, it has to answer a number of questions related to sustainability of the resources. The issues related to, water, fossil fuels, minerals, sediments, dynamic tectonics etc., have to be answered and most importantly billions of lives cannot be put at risk. Also, globally, how are we going to answer big systems and their interactions like: global climate fluctuations, mineral discovery/exploration, magmatic systems, earthquakes, location of active faults and their behaviour, sediment flows, hydrogeology, volcanoes etc. These questions have been nagging us from centuries and we are still struggling to understand and get a convincing answer for them. We need people who can use multidisciplinary approaches to understand the planet and make it a sustainable and a better place to live. Not only earth scientists can help us in this regard, in fact anyone with a general knowledge about the Earth and how it interacts with us and the surroundings can make a lot of difference and can help one achieve, what we have not been able to since decades!
Kashmir is tectonically active, which is quite evident by the presence of a number of active faults. These have uplifted recent sediment deposits and therefore, pose significant alarm. To understand the basics of earthquakes one ought to know more about Earth Science. The earthquake scientists around the world are struggling to make prediction a possibility and we know there is a long way to go before we can warn people about an impending disaster. However, mitigation education is available and will immensely help people to overcome the effects of disasters. Similarly, the floods are a great threat during rainy seasons and a proper management is required to minimize the casualties and property damage. There are some other potential issues related to the earth, like scarcity of groundwater/fresh water, melting of glaciers, mineral wealth; these are some of the concerns, which one ought to address.
To understand these, one must realize the implication of the basics of earth sciences. Similar to most other states, the earth science education is extremely unrepresented in Jammu and Kashmir. Only a few colleges have geology degree courses, even those do not have enough staff and facilities to teach or train graduates. University of Kashmir (KU) has the department of geology and geophysics and it can become a chief source in propagating the earth science within the rest of the state and it can promote it through various programs. It should recruit scientific, research and teaching staff to enhance its capabilities for an effective earth science education and research plan. We are lucky to have an earth scientist on board, the honourable vice-chancellor Professor Talat Ahmad, who has recently joined KU. He is a well known geologist and understands the significance of earth science education and research. His sincere efforts will surely metamorphose the overall architecture of geo-science within the Kashmir valley as well as outside.
It is my suggestion, that to make earth a better place, one must understand it and try to implement it, so that it can heal from the wounds, which have been inflicted by human beings since the past few centuries. To do that, it is required to teach our generations, what earth is and how it is related to us and our surroundings. I think, not only India, throughout the world, geological science is grossly unrepresented, though, after some major disastrous events; its significance has somehow forced the authorities to take the necessary steps in this regard. Will it always take a tsunami or an earthquake to make us realise the need to have the desirable changes in earth science education? Our role is important, we must understand it and how we modify the geology/geomorphology of the planet. It will be required of us to push the respective governments for the introduction of Earth science education at all levels.
Afroz Ahmad Shah is a research fellow at Earth Observatory of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.