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DAMBAR K SHRESTHA


PICS: MIN RATNA BAJRACHARYA

Last Tuesday's 7.3 Richter earthquake devastated the island nation of Haiti, and alarm bells rang on the other side of the world as it emerged that thousands were dead or missing. There are approximately 1300 Nepali peacekeepers stationed in the country.

They may have been declared safe, but Nepal has plenty of reason to worry on its own account as it prepares for Earthquake Safety Day on January 16. Nepal ranks 11th on the list of nations at risk from earthquakes. Experts note that major earthquakes occur here every 80 to 100 years. The last catastrophe to fit this bill occurred in 1934, when 80,000 houses were destroyed and 8,518 people died in an 8.3 Richter quake, half in the Kathmandu Valley. But preventative measures are proceeding at a snail's pace.

Following the earthquake of 1988, during which 721 people lost their lives, the state did begin to look into such measures. The 2005 Nepal National Building Code was to be enacted in 58 municipalities and 121 peri-urban VDCs in two years. Between 1994 and 2009, 7530 engineers, overseers and masons were trained in earthquake-resistant construction. Similarly, the National Society for Earthquake Technology (NSET) has provided training to 206 members of the security forces and the Red Cross on earthquake impact minimisation.

But implementation is virtually absent. Though Lalitpur, Dharan and Surkhet have enacted the building code, Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Thimi and Kirtipur have only adopted piecemeal measures. Amrit Man Tuladhar, National Program Manager for the Earthquake Risk Reduction and Recovery Preparedness Programme for Nepal, says, "There are laws, we've provided training, but if it isn't implemented what can we do?"

The problem stems in part from the lack of a separate government authority and national strategy for disaster management, such as exist in many Asian nations. Implementation has also suffered due to weak support from local administration, which in any case is hamstrung by the absence of elected representatives in the last decade.

More recently, the cabinet passed the Disaster Risk Reduction Management National Regulations. Though the regulations were much delayed, NSET National Program Manager Amod Dixit asserts they could play an important role in disaster management. It incorporates the provisions of the 2005 Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) adopted by 123 nations in Japan, chiefly the formulation of relevant legislation, risk and damage assessments, public awareness and risk reduction measures. Dixit quips, "Easy if you do it, hard if you don't want to."

If the government wants to, the Disaster Risk Reduction Management National Regulations could be passed in parliament and put into action immediately. Shankar Koirala, Joint Secretary of the Central Natural Disaster Relief Committee at the Home Ministry, claims a relevant draft law is almost ready to be submitted to parliament. The enactment of this law, under the aegis of a National Emergency Work Coordination Centre to be set up in Singh Darbar in coordination with multiple state organs, will be a major achievement. But according to Dixit, it will take 20 years for Nepal to reach the level of Japan's preparedness even if the strategy is implemented tomorrow. Time is of the essence.


Capital risk

There are some 150,000 houses in Kathmandu Municipality, and 4000 are added every year. But the metropolitan municipality responsible for issuing certificates for land sales has not been able to estimate to what extent the Nepal National Building Code has been adhered to. In fact, Head of the Physical Development and Planning Department of Kathmandu Municipality, Bimal Rijal, reckons not even 40 out of these 4000 houses are monitored for earthquake safety during construction.

The situation is similar in the other municipalities of the Kathmandu Valley, though engineer Pravin Shrestha claims in Lalitpur, carpenters have been trained to build earthquake-resistant houses and the municipality does conduct regular checks.

It's not just old residential houses that are at risk: administrative centres such as Singh Darbar are equally insecure. According to NSET estimates, an earthquake on the scale of 1934 could destroy 70 per cent of the Valley's buildings. Eighty per cent of casualties would occur as a result of people being crushed by buildings. With most open spaces here being encroached upon by residential and commercial complexes, the inhabitants of the Valley would have nowhere to go in the event of another earthquake. The human costs are almost unimaginable.

READ ALSO:
Haiti here - FROM ISSUE #485 (15 JAN 2010 - 21 JAN 2010)



1. sthapit
more thoughts on the topic at http://www.sodne.com/389/learning-from-haiti

2. Pradhot
Thanks for the article. But Dambarji, please do a better research before you write numbers. The earthquake in Haiti was 7.0 not 7.3.

3. Norbu ghaley
People who rules and dominates Nepal had played too much of mockery in the life line of all Nepalese citizens. Now it is too much, enough is enough, they all need to come up with a very serious initiatives of countries welfare and preparedness to face the challenges lie ahead. At present power struggle is their main agenda, after getting hold of power, these narrow minded idiots are after making there own benefits by miss using the power. Thinking of Nepal and Nepalese are far behind in their true motives, this is very disgusting, as from kings to all these politicians have been taking advantage of poor innocent and humble citizens of Nepal. It is high time to make real corrections from the core of their heart and mind, to stay away from self centered selfishness and beliefs in many blind faiths, which in obstructs all the ways for good and healthy society. Concerning the situation with a very disastrous earthquake in Haiti, I pray everyday and night to Triple Gems of Buddha, such things never happens in Nepal and to other poor countries which are prone to strong earthquakes. Govt. of Nepal is not prepared at all to face such disasters!

4. jange
Surely making a new constitution and getting rid of the monarchy are far more important than preparing for an earthquake that may or may not happen.

5. ah
what one can do to prepare people? certain earthquake training Mexico they teach young children at school what to not do what to do. Costa Rica is very aware they are in earthquake area and so are we. One of the things the consulates ask their foreigners is in case of earthquake where will we be which is actually not practical because now we see no electricity by the time we think of them we will not be able not even by inverter to upload our cell phones. Nonetheless I am not sure like in Tsunami there is much to do, from Peru I remember they said not to stand in the door it comes down on you. The Haiti situation is extreme, many earthquakes do not take 70 000 people at once. both should be done the constitution the whole thing and preparing for what may not happen is worth trying. I may not become a secretary but I can type.

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