The code is nothing new, but it has never been enforced, with no supervision or monitoring by technicians and engineers

Nepal is one of those countries most prone to natural disasters, from earthquakes and floods to landslides and now even wildfires. The loss of lives and destruction they cause to property are immense as we have been witness to in recent times. The devastating Gorkha Earthquake of 2015 laid bare just how vulnerable poorly built structures are to such a natural calamity, which destroyed more than 800,000 homes and monuments in no time. More recently, with the start of the monsoon rains in mid-June, floods and landslides, triggered by the incessant downpour, wiped out entire settlements in Melamchi and Manang, displacing tens of thousands of people and leaving them with neither a home nor a livelihood. While natural disasters cannot be prevented altogether, their impact can be mitigated, if we are extra careful during construction of buildings and infrastructure. It is against the backdrop of such impending disasters that the Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration has written to all the local levels to strictly enforce the National Building Code and Standard during housing construction.

The building code, as provided by the Department of Urban Development and Building Construction, prohibits the construction of houses near rivers and streams and in areas vulnerable to rain-induced disasters, such as floods, landslides and inundation. The building code and standard is nothing new, but it has never been enforced, with little or no supervision and monitoring by technicians and engineers of the building design and construction.

There is talk about its strict implementation only when a disaster strikes, as in the case of the Gorkha Earthquake or Melamchi and Manang cataclysms. The ministry directive also calls on the local levels to see to it that the blueprint of the building design promotes local architecture and ancient art and culture. This is just as important as building a sturdy house as towns, big and small, and the rural landscape are losing their aesthetic appeal as haphazard urbanisation runs riot.

It is for certain that Nepal will be seeing many more natural disasters in the years to come, especially with the change in climate that is becoming more pronounced with each passing year. Given Nepal's fragile topography, the way caution is being thrown to the wind while constructing buildings and infrastructure like roads and bridges, it is a disaster in the making. The local levels, with the enormous funds at their disposal, seem only too happy to be building roads using large machines such as dozers by cutting into steep hillsides. The government must put a stop to the haphazard construction of roads in the rural areas as they are said to be a major reason behind landslides in the hills and inundation in the plains.

And with land prices hitting the roof across the country even in the rural areas, there is a tendency to build multi-storeyed buildings even if the soil will not support them, posing a threat to the surroundings in the event of a natural disaster like a quake.

Only if the government has the political will to enforce the building code and the people are ready to abide by it can everyone stay safe even when a disaster strikes.

Railway service deal

Industrialists and the business community of Nepal have welcomed the inking of India-Nepal Rail Services Agreement 2004. Nepal and India signed a letter of exchange (LoE) to this effect on Friday. This agreement will greatly help reduce the time and transportation cost as it has allowed Nepali traders to use Indian Railway Services network.

With the entering into force of the LoE, all authorised cargo train operators, which include public and private container trains operators, automobile freight train operators, special freight trainoperators or any other operator authorised by Indian Railways, will be allowed to utilise the railway network to carry Nepal's container and other freight – both bilateral, between Nepal and India, or third country from the Indian ports to Nepal. This will increase efficiency and cost-competitiveness, eventually benefitting the traders, transporters and consumers. Now, the Nepal government must not delay in bringing the Jayanagar-Janakpur Railway service into operation. The government has yet to make public when the country's only railway service will come into operation.

Janakpur can develop as a major business hub if the railway service comes into full operation.

A version of this article appears in the print on July 12 2021, of The Himalayan Times.