15-21 May 2015 #758

brick by brick

JAN MØLLER HANSEN

The numbers are staggering: 600,000 homes destroyed, 20,000 schools in ruins, government buildings reduced to rubble, dozens of bazar towns that look like they were carpet bombed. And that was before Tuesday’s 7.3 aftershock which finished off the houses that were left standing. No one has even bothered to revise the figure. The work ahead to provide emergency and long-term shelter for 4 million people is going to be overwhelming.

Future reconstruction of devastated Kathmandu Valley towns, urban centres and district headquarters will need a different focus: how to brace non-engineered masonry buildings. The fact that so many of the reinforced concrete houses are standing and traditional clay-mortar brick houses crumbled after the earthquakes has bolstered public perception that concrete is good. But given shortcuts used in reinforced concrete construction, this may only give us a false sense of security. Most rural rebuilding will have to be (and should be) household-led. Proposed housing types should be specific to each community and use existing local materials and skills. Unless families have a sense of ownership the new construction will not be maintained and looked after.

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