Central Asia is periodically hit by devastating earthquakes, and four of its five capitals are in areas of high seismic risk. In April 1996, Uzbekistan’s capital Tashkent was destroyed by an earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale. The quake left more than 300,000 people homeless, and destroyed most of Tashkent’s architectural heritage.
More deadly was the 1948 Ashgabat earthquake. At the time, the death toll was kept secret, but in 2007 the State News Agency of Turkmenistan said that up to 176,000 people had been killed – around 15% of the Soviet state’s population. They included the mother of independent Turkmenistan’s first president, the late Saparmurad Niyazov. “Central Asia is one of the most vulnerable areas geographically located in a zone of high seismic activity. It’s even more vulnerable because of the type of infrastructure and construction in this region. Although it is never possible to predict an earthquake, Almaty is in a high risk area, and the world is currently gong through a period of high seismic activity,” Kassenova tells bne.