Quake-proofIn 1988, the 6.7 magnitude earthquake with an epicentre in Udayapur killed 721 people and 7,000 buildings were destroyed.
In 1988, the 6.7 magnitude earthquake with an epicentre in Udayapur killed 721 people and 7,000 buildings were destroyed. The Gorkha Earthquake in 2015 claimed 8,790 lives, more than 500,000 buildings collapsed and 200,000 buildings were partially damaged according to the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD).
These statistics make clear the need for seismic risk reduction measures in Nepal. The problem is that the way most buildings have been constructed in Nepal render them seismically unsafe, failing as they do to meet even the basic building codes.
It is obvious that it is neither practical nor feasible to demolish all those buildings that fail to meet the criteria for seismic resilience and build new ones in their place. This from both financial reasons, and as importantly, because many of the buildings in the core city areas of Nepal constitute a major part of our archaeological heritage. These structures hold immense historic and cultural value as a result of their age, design and the religious functions they performed. This is where retrofitting measures factor in, where existing structures are strengthened and their level of safety upgraded.
The MoUD published the ‘Seismic Retrofitting Guidelines of Buildings in Nepal’ in April last year—a major step towards retrofitting efforts. However, a year later, as we approach the third anniversary of the Gorkha quake, the process of retrofitting has been decidedly sluggish, and it is easy to see why. As Urban Development Secretary Dipendra Nath Sharma just pointed out, the guidelines are for technocrats, far beyond the understanding of those engineers, government agencies, and construction labourers who are to be carrying out the retrofitting work.
But, fortunately, it seems that the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) has realised the issues with the guidelines. The NRA has identified the need for simplifying the retrofitting guidelines and providing relevant training to concerned stakeholders so they can understand the spirit of the guidelines introduced and work accordingly. Training is to begin in mid-April, and a total of 2,000 engineers and 12,000 masons will be trained in retrofitting methods over the next two years. In all, 24,991 houses have finally been identified and approved for financial assistance, which will be distributed in two tranches of Rs50,000 each.
This is not the first time, however, that the NRA has given the impression that it’s set to get the ball rolling to accelerate the retrofitting. We hope that this time it will follow through with its efforts. Problems related to the lack of awareness and procedural delays should not be allowed to plague retrofitting efforts as they did the reconstruction process. Indeed, the absence of a provision for a monitoring mechanism in the retrofitting process has already led to doubts about effective implementation of the guidelines. Just as the NRA is striving to address issues related to understanding of the guidelines, so must they give due consideration to monitoring mechanisms to ensure that all buildings meet seismic safety standards.