May 4, 2015-
Less than a year ago, when my uncle had just begun construction his house in Kathmandu, I asked him not to extend the structure of the first floor with respect to the ground floor. I also asked him to keep the structure straight up until the top as shown in a billboard advertisement in our chowk. But when the contractor and engineer assured him that would be safe to do so, I had to forget about the TV advertisement funded by USAID and featuring an animated ‘Panda sir’. Still, I thought that what we were doing was wrong.
And just after 40 days of shifting to the new house, the great Gorkha earthquake hit us. The house swayed east to west. And for a quake of 7.8 magnitude, the engineer’s and contractor’s decision turned out to be correct. We can only imagine what would have happened to the house, my uncle built after consulting extensively with friends and families on building materials, had there been a more powerful quake.
Building a house in Kathmandu or other earthquake prone areas is a serious matter. Post the quake, builders of many swanky apartments in this city were found to have taken faulty decisions. Had they been honest concerning construction materials or on other technical aspects, such high rises could have been standing straight instead of being filled with cracks and tilted.
We seem to have been too engrossed in debating the name and number of federal states to think of enforcing building codes. Whichever federal region we are part of in the future, we need safe houses more than anything else. A proper law is vital to ensuring safe housing. Such a law must have the power under an honest authority to inspect the quality of cement, steel and other construction-related industries.
Many skyscrapers built in Kathmandu have either cracked or been weakened after the quake. If these fall, it could not only be fatal to its residents but smaller houses in the neighbourhood too. Such apartments need to be sturdy so that middle-class buyers feel both financially and physically secure and apartment owners can also instill trust in their potential customers. And to assure safety to smaller houses near such high rises, apart from building robust houses, the apartment must have a spacious compound, such that, even if it falls, it falls within the apartment boundary. Houses are built once in a lifetime, let us help ourselves and our neighbours by building sturdy houses and apartments and to consumers by manufacturing quality products. Earthquakes rarely kill. More often, than not, it is buildings that kill if concerned stakeholders—manufacturers of cement, steel, bricks, engineers and houseowners—do not do their job and homework well.
Published: 05-05-2015 09:09