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Averting disasters – technology at work

The Indian sub-continent has a geo-climatic and socio-political condition that makes it vulnerable to a large number of disasters, both natural as well as man-made. Around 6 per cent of the population, 72 million people, are impacted annually by exposure to disasters.

Close to 60 per cent of India’s landmass is prone to earthquakes, about 60 per cent of its long coastline is prone to cyclones and tsunamis. Around 70 per cent of its cultivable area is vulnerable to droughts, and, its hilly areas are at risk from landslides and avalanches.

Disaster risks in India are further compounded by increasing vulnerabilities related to changing demographics and socio-economic conditions, unplanned urbanization in high-risk zones, environmental degradation, climate change and epidemics. All these contribute to a situation where disasters seriously threaten India’s economy, its population and sustainable development.

Norway and India have collaborated together for more than a decade through the technical cooperation programme of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Norwegian Geotechnical Institute (NGI), Norway's largest geotechnical centre of expertise, is collaborating with the Department of Science and Technology (DST), India and providing the Indian institution with several advanced tools and techniques for geotechnical investigations.

In 2008, a programme of cooperation on science and technology between Norway and India was initiated. The cooperation led to setting up a National Geotechnical Facility (NGF) in Dehradun, Uttarakhand. The NGI provides various tools, equipment and training to the NGF, for example a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR). GPR is a non-destructive method that uses electromagnetic radiation to provide high-resolution sub-surface mapping information. Estimating geological structural features such as cracks, fractures and joints, etc., are very important for detection of potential natural hazards. The NGF in Dehradun is successfully using this technology for carrying out advanced geotechnical investigations on various landslide-affected areas in Uttarakhand.

The GPR equipment developed by the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute was ranked as the best in the world by the European Commission when they conducted tests using different GPRs from around the world. The range of GPR applications have been expanding steadily, and now includes archaeology, road and rail bed quality assessment, location of underground tunnels and voids, land mines etc.

In April 2017, a field visit to Surbee landslide area near Mussoorie was carried out where representatives from the Norwegian Embassy in New Delhi, NGI Regional Manager for Asia, DST project coordinator and scientists from NGF participated. The NGF scientists demonstrated the use of this advanced GPR technology in disaster management studies by distinguishing between soil and bedrock beneath the ground surface. This process helps to map the course of events and this knowledge can prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future, or ensure that the locals are notified in advance.

Scanning the sub-surface using GPR. Field visit to Mussoorie, Uttarakhand.