29 May - 5 June 2015 #760

Demolishing Kathmandu to rebuild it

Nepal lacks proper technology, equipment and technicians for large scale demolition of earthquake-damaged infrastructure
Sahina Shrestha

Photos: Gopen Rai

Prakash Khadka and his family have been camping under a tarpaulin for more than a month now even though their single-storey home was hardly damaged. However, a neighbour’s tall house has cracks and looks like it may come down onto his property in the next aftershock.

The damaged house is supported by wooden beams, but that is more for peace-of-mind than structural support. Now, a joint team of the Nepal Army and Armed Police Force along with a technical squad from the municipality are here to plan the demolition.

“I am scared the house will fall over mine when they demolish it, but even if it doesn't, it is sure to fall on top of us next time there is a major aftershock,” Khadka told us.

As an excavator poked and pulled the walls and roof of the first floor, the houses on both sides rattled and the electricity pole near the house threatened to collapse. A group of locals halted the demolition saying that the constant shaking would damage the houses nearby.

An estimated 50,000 houses in Kathmandu have been affected by the earthquake and its aftershocks, out of which 20,000 have collapsed or are on the verge of it. Many of them are in densely populated areas of Gongabu Buspark, Swayambhu, Balkhu and Kalanki.

“We are demolishing houses that threaten neighbours and also old structures that are damaged,” said Uttar Kumar Regmi of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City. He said old houses without pillars, new high buildings with shutters, buildings without proper design and those built with sub-standard materials were the ones to come down during the earthquake.

Surprisingly, the houses in Kathmandu that were rebuilt after being demolished during the road widening project were not affected by the earthquake.

But the government is ill-prepared to carry out large scale demolitions despite dozens of people coming in everyday with applications or complaints about unsafe houses in the neighbourhood. Officials freely admit they just don’t have the technical expertise to carry out controlled demolition on such a scale, especially of high-rise apartments. The municipality is concentrating on risky buildings of up to three stories.

“Right now we are using all the available materials but these aren’t enough to demolish higher structures,” said Shiva Hari Sharma, joint secretary of Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD). Earlier this month, the Ministry of Home Affairs formed a committee under Sharma to recommend a plan for demolition. “We have provided a list of equipment we need to demolish high-rise apartments and buildings that are more than three stories high to the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport,” he added.

The Nepal Army, Nepal Police, Armed Police Force and the KMC’s own security staff are using excavators, loader machines, cranes as well as small tools like hammers, drilling machines and concrete cutters for demolition. Narrow roads, low-hanging wires, inexperience in demolition and lack of technical expertise hinder their work.

The Nepal Army has so far demolished 103 concrete houses and many more mud and brick homes in the Valley. For other buildings that are not posing any risk to neighbours, the government is asking the home owners to take the lead and take down the buildings on their own. Sharma said the government needs help from foreign demolition experts with both the expertise and the equipment to demolish tall structures. “If they can come and work for a few weeks, and also train our men, it would be a lot easier and faster,” he added.

Debris management is another headache, and the KMC has designated the old cement quarry in Chobhar as a dumping site. Said Regmi: “While it is sad that so many buildings have gone down, this may also offer an opportunity for us to plan our city better.”

Read Also:

The building blocks of reconstruction, Shreesha Nankhwa

Crumbling Palaces, Sahina Shrestha

A concrete Future, Sonia Awale

Monumental loss, Stephane Huet

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