Nepali Times
Making schools safer


Visiting Australian Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs and Foreign Affairs Richard Marles (right) inspecting the retrofitted classrooms of Tri-Padma Vidyashram School in Lalitpur
Every time an earthquake hits anywhere in the world, alarm bells start ringing in Kathmandu, classified as the city most vulnerable to a catastrophic quake.

On 18 September last year, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake rocked eastern Nepal and northeast India. The number of casualties was miraculously low, but the fact that a faraway earthquake killed three people in Kathmandu was a warning that brought back memories of the Great Earthquake of 1934 which killed 10,000 people in the Valley.

Nepal ranks high on the list of nations at risk from earthquakes, and Kathmandu is the world's least prepared city for earthquakes. Japan and New Zealand proved that even in the deadliest of earthquakes, preparedness can help reduce and avert the loss of lives.

Richard Marles and Susan Grace, Australian Ambassador to Nepal, pose with student scouts of Tri-Padma Vidyashram School
"Despite our vulnerability to a powerful earthquake, the lack of preparedness here is mind boggling," says Amod Dixit of the Kathmandu based Nepal Society for Earthquake Technology (NSET) as he took visiting Australian Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs and Foreign Affairs Richard Marles on a walkabout through the warren of narrow alleys in Patan this week.

Marles was here to inspect progress on a project to retrofit schools in Kathmandu Valley to make them earthquake resistant which is being supported by AusAID and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Earthquake experts say that unsafe construction will result in widespread damage to the Valley's urban core, and most of the existing schools and hospitals will be destroyed in a big earthquake. Retrofitting schools and hospitals will not just help save lives, but the buildings themselves can serve as shelters in the aftermath of a future earthquake.

Amod Dixit of NSET leads Richard Marles and team through the narrow alleys of Patan
If an 8.0 magnitude earthquake like the one in 1934 were to hit Kathmandu, as many as 100,000 people would be killed outright, many more would be injured and 1.5 million people would be homeless. Many of those killed and injured will be students if the quake happens during school hours. Most school buildings in eastern Nepal came down in the earthquake last year, but students were spared because it happened in the evening.

Under the AusAID and ADB-funded School Sector Reform Programme, 15 schools in the Valley have been retrofitted in the last fiscal year and nearly 121 more will be completed in the coming year. The retrofitting programme only covers government schools, and experts are worried about thousands of private schools housed in unsafe buildings.
"Many private schools are housed in residential buildings, which are rarely monitored for earthquake safety putting hundreds of children at risk," says Jhapper Singh Vishokarma, engineer with the Department of Education, which is working with technical assistance of NSET to make schools safer.

Walking past the congested residential areas of inner Patan where houses look nothing more than stacks of bricks fighting for every inch of space, Marles made his way to the spacious premises of the Tri-Padma Vidyashram School in Lalitpur. The school has recently been retrofitted and hopes to serve as a shelter for the local community after an earthquake. The students and teachers have been practicing earthquake safety drills over the past year, which has helped spread awareness about earthquake safety beyond schools.

Students at Tri-Padma Vidyashram School perform an earthquake drill
"We are proud to be one of the safest schools in the community," said a beaming Bidya Panday, the school's principal.

Since schools have the largest concentration of people on any given day, building safe schools will not just help save lives. but also be the best way to pass on earthquake safety information to families and the community.

Tri-Padma Vidyashram School in Patan was recently retrofitted
"Schools build future citizens and this project protects the future," said Marles after visiting the school where students performed an earthquake safety drill. Teachers and students talked with Marles about how they have been sharing their earthquake preparedness knowledge with their families and friends.

"Awareness is key," he added as he walked along the wide hallways inspecting the retrofitted classrooms.

In 2009, Nepal's international partners and the UN got together to form the National Risk Reduction Consortium to better prepare for future disasters, including earthquakes. School and hospital retrofitting was considered the best place to start.

The UN's Resident Coordinator, Robert Piper, accompanied Marles on the school inspection. He told Nepali Times: "To protect the future, children need to be safe first and the time is now."

See also:
Where the quake will hit hardest, RUBEENA MAHATO
Kathmandu is woefully unprepared for the next Big One

Unsafe schools and hospitals
Where the earthquake will hit the hardest

Not if, but when, KUNDA DIXIT
Ask not what your government can do for you in an earthquake, ask what you can do for yourself

1. Ananta Baidya
Post Earthquake Disaster Management is great and dandy.  What must not be forgotten is that pre Diaster mitigation through enforceable and practical building codes, proper infastucture development go hand in hand with post disaster management.  Emphasis on this appears to be highly desired and is also the need of the moment.  Methods and understanding of non structural prediaster mitigation measures must be followed more agressively through enforcement of building codes and certification of construction through proper inspections of both non structural and structural components of safety.  it is time to do this now in Nepal.  This has received low priority in the scheme of things. 

2. Sanjay Gelal Jhumka
Though it is praiseworthy deed to retrofit governmental buildings in kathmandu valley, until then it becomes just some day-dream to curb possibities of quake damages, unless the futile structured urbanisation of concrete jungle stops.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)