Time to rebuildThe government should train masons, electricians and plumbers on sustainable building techniques
According to the government estimates, approximately 600,000 houses were destroyed and over 280,000 houses were partially damaged by the April earthquake and its aftershocks. The majority of the damaged buildings were traditional structures built by using local materials. And the lack of proper safety measures and insufficient maintenance was deemed as the major reason behind the damages suffered by such buildings.
As we have an opportunity to rebuild many of our structures now, we should consider using greener and sustainable concepts of construction. This will require patience and detailed planning as they
need to take our socio-economic, technological, financial and environmental realities into account.
Invest in rebuilding
The Post Disaster Needs Assessment report by the National Planning Commission also mentions that “reconstruction should ensure sustainable and environmentally conscious processes that keep in mind issues such as climate change, natural resource management and scientific risk assessment”. During the reconstruction phase, it is also critical to prevent actions that increase risks for future disasters. There is a need for the policy makers, planners and the civil society members to come up with methods to build sustainable cities. But such reconstruction and rehabilitation initiatives are only possible through huge financial investments.
Ram Sharan Mahat, the Finance Minister, while addressing the participants at the International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction, did mention that “the ordinary process of development has to be pursued on the strength of economic reforms initiated and facilitated by the government to mobilise huge amounts of private capital, creativity, and entrepreneurship. It needs an enabling climate for private sector investment in world class infrastructure and production.” But we are yet to be discuss onn ways to mobilise the private sector in the rebuilding process.
The housing sector is one of the major contributors of employment in Nepal. Construction industries alone generate 18 percent of the urban employment. However, the sector is also responsible for producing greenhouse gases and using unsustainable resources. Fortunately, the private sector is willing to invest on greener technologies, if there are appropriate financing mechanisms. But the question remains, where are those skilled people who can build earthquake resistant and green buildings? To address this problem, the government should make provisions in its reconstruction and rehabilitation plan to increase the capacities of local masons, electricians and plumbers to implement the greener housing concept. This implies using green construction materials (building materials available locally that save energy and resources in transportation), adoption of passive solar design (windows, walls, and floors that store and distribute solar energy during winter and reject it in summer), measures to make the optimal use of water and effective ways to manage waste.
Addressing a workshop on sustainable housing this month, Sambhu KC, Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Urban Development stressed on the need to bring in low-cost technological options for reconstruction so that people affected by the earthquake will be able to build multi-hazard resilient houses both in rural and urban areas. This requires planned extensions of market towns and of semi-urban areas in the Kathmandu Valley.
The emphasis should be to invest in planned and affordable housing in priority urban centers to reduce risk and prevent the growth of slums, paying specific attention to the urban poor. To do so, we need to make current provisions pro-poor (through land pooling) and mobilise necessary investment on infrastructure by mapping priority expansion areas.
The new bylaws that is part of the ‘Guidelines for Settlement Development, Urban Planning and Building Construction 2015’ has raised hopes for building sustainable cities. Its provisions such as the need to leave at least 30 percent of the land as open space in case of private residential buildings, and 50 percent in case of government, semi-government and public buildings are encouraging. This is a positive step in protecting and creating open space in dense urban areas. The new rules also provide easy accessibility to neighbourhoods as it requires residential areas to have eight-meter wide roads connecting the land plots to the main roads. Based on this guideline, the government should now bring on-board the people with technical knowledge and skills and immediately begin reconstruction.
Bastola is a faculty member at the Department of Environmental Science, Amrit Campus, Tribhuvan University