Built to last

  • Building code should integrate earthquake resistant technologies in construction
Built to last

May 19, 2015-

On Monday, the government took a decision to halt the construction of new buildings and the plotting of land across the country. Following a circular issued by the Ministry of Local Development and Federal Affairs, the ban will last until a new building code comes into effect, most likely by mid-July. Until then, no new house designs will be approved. For buildings that are currently under construction, they cannot be built beyond two storeys. People in the quake-affected districts, nonetheless, will be allowed to build earthquake-resistant shelters with approval from local authorities. This is a welcome decision at a time when houses built for security have become the primary sources of fear post the Great Quake.

Honest implementation of the directive and the new building code, which is expected to be stricter than the previous one, will be crucial. If that happens, Nepal can definitely build back better. Making people feel safe, however, will require more than new building codes. Existent buildings in the inner cities and elsewhere, which are on the verge of collapse, and high-rises with visible cracks that terrify neighbours, will need to be demolished too. To address this problem, the government should also come up with a plan and seek technologies to demolish such buildings with minimum effect on other structures.

In addition to the focus on the height of new buildings, there is a need to study the nature of the ground. Soil tests need to be made mandatory before construction. People also need to be informed about the precautions they need to take and the risks associated with construction on various types of soil. As for commercial and public buildings, like schools and hospitals, a ground resistance test that measures how the soil will react to seismic waves should be made compulsory.

An earthquake engineer from New Zealand, who was part of a team that formulated Nepal’s building code in 1994, Richard Sharpe, tells the Bloomberg Business website that the country should consider using the base isolation technique for construction. Base isolators or flexible pads separate structures from the ground and help minimise the impact of the earthquake. This is particularly useful in reducing damage to historic monuments and public buildings. The Japanese could help Nepal learn the ropes of doing so, as they built a base-isolated building way back in 1986. The West Japan Postal Computer Centre in Sanda, Kobe even withstood the devastating 1995 Kobe earthquake. Likewise, Sirve, an engineering company in Chile, is working on technology that not only prevents buildings from falling down but also reduces internal damage by absorbing energy released during the quake.

In addition to stringent implementation of building codes, the government should also adopt new technologies for the future. The April 25 quake was a reminder that construction of buildings in Nepal cannot be allowed to continue as in the past. In the aftermath, building authorities should now take this as an opportunity to integrate smart technologies into construction too.

Published: 20-05-2015 07:43

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