Print Edition - 2015-01-13  |  Development

Kathmandu under-prepared for earthquake

  • earthquake safety day
- Development Bureau
Kathmandu under-prepared for earthquake

Jan 12, 2015-

Mayaju Maharjan was putting her youngest child to bed for his afternoon nap when a strong earthquake shook her two-storied house at New Road in Kathmandu. When she peeked outside her window, Maharjan saw her neighbours fleeing out of their houses.

“I could not get out of my house as I had two small children with me. So I decided to stay inside, and fortunately the house did not collapse,” Maharjan said of the earthquake on the afternoon of January 15, 1934.

Measuring 8.3 on the Richter scale, the earthquake is one of the deadliest disasters ever to hit the country that killed around 8,000 people across the country.  Nearly 70 percent of the building structures inside Kathmandu Valley was destroyed.

“The next day, the New Road area was under rubble and ashes. Many houses had collapsed and the alleyways were blocked,” Maharjan said. “The earthquake destroyed the ancient city.”

Over 80 years down the line, the vulnerabilities and threats related to earthquake in the country, Kathmandu in particular, have increased significantly. Unplanned urbanisation, population growth and the government’s failure to come up with an effective measures to mitigate risks related to earthquake have made Kathmandu a dangerous place to live in.

“There were fewer buildings and people in the city in 1934. Kathmandu Valley had vast stretches of farmland and open spaces where people could go during the time of earthquake,” Maharjan said. “There are no open spaces nowadays. I am concerned for my grandchildren, who are more vulnerable to earthquake than I was 80 years ago.”   

Experts agree with what Maharjan says. “We failed to learn from the 1934 disaster. There hasn’t been much progress to protect people and the existing infrastructure from earthquake,” said Amod Mani Dixit, executive director at the National Society for Earthquake Technology (NSET), the major partner of the government working in earthquake preparedness.

According to Dixit, the threat level to earthquake of similar magnitude as of 1934 is much more severe now in Kathmandu Valley which has transformed into a densely populated and unplanned urban city. Various studies have pointed out that if a similar tremor strikes Kathmandu Valley, then over 90,000 people would die and 80 percent of the building structures would collapse.

The government, along with development partners and non-governmental organisations like NSET, has to minimise the risks related to disasters. The major donors have come collectively to invest in disaster risk reduction programmes and initiatives, including formation of Nepal Risk Reduction Consortium in 2009. Similarly, in 2013, the government identified 83 open spaces in three districts of the Valley--Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur--as evacuation and temporary rescue sites to relocate victims, build temporary hospitals and store logistics in case of a disaster. The same year, the National Disaster Response Framework was formulated that designated specific responsibilities to the agencies involved in disaster response like the standard time to reach the site for rescue, providing required support and calling emergency meetings at concerned ministries for updates on the disaster scenario.

However, the most important intervention-- construction of new earthquake-resistant physical structures including private and public houses, commercial buildings, schools, hospitals and basic infrastructure and retrofitting the older structures to minimise the risks have been poorly considered and implemented.

The government formulated National Building Code in 1994 as a compliance measure for every building structure to strengthen the preparedness to seismic hazards.  However, very few buildings follow the regulation.

The findings of a survey of buildings conducted by NSET found that only 13.7 percent of the existing buildings inside Kathmandu Metropolitan City are earthquake resistant while more than 50 percent buildings are masonry structures with no reinforcements. Even those which are reinforced, the structures are not elastic and prone to destruction when earthquake strikes.

“Over the years, a majority of the activities have been focused on public awareness and preparedness training and capacity building workshops. But, the present need is strict implementation and enforcement of existing policies and programmes including the building codes,” said Rameshwor Dangal, chief at the Disaster Management Division under the Ministry of Home Affairs. “We are still struggling to move from post disaster preparedness to pre-disaster preparedness approach. The government’s priority is still on providing relief and rehabilitation measures than working on preparedness to minimise the risks related with any disaster.”

Published: 13-01-2015 09:29

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