It is unfortunate that a recent earthquake in Indonesia has sent more than 5,000 people dead and over 10,000 wounded creating a havoc of an unmanageable proportion. This has come as a double blow to Indonesia in view of a massive earthquake, which triggered a tsunami of astronomical dimension just a few years ago.
To talk about an earthquake in Indonesia for a Nepali is akin to an octogenarian on deathbed grieving the recent demise of his elder brother. It is because Nepal is likely to be shaken by an earthquake of huge magnitude any time in the future. Though earthquakes have hit Nepal since time immemorial, the recorded history begins from the year 1255. There have been several earthquakes since then but the ones in 1833 and 1934 have been talked about in great deal. On the basis of the historical observation, it has been theorised that Nepal suffers from a major earthquake every 75 to 100 years. Medium size earthquakes also torment it every 50 years. Accordingly, the 1934 earthquake is regarded as a large one while that of 1988 is recognised as one belonging to the middle order.
A study shows that 40,000 people are going to die, 95,000 wounded and between 6,00,000 to 9,00,000 rendered homeless in the aftermath of an impending large earthquake in Nepal. The challenge is thus to find ways and means by which the number of deaths and injuries can be minimised in the event of a future earthquake. The single answer is preparedness. Example is often sited of a senior citizen dying of heart attack in the Seattle earthquake in the US when an earthquake of similar magnitude claimed 20,000 lives in Gujarat because of preparedness in the US and its total absence in India.
In a future earthquake, Nepal is going to suffer a huge loss of life and property in the Himalayan hills and the urban Terai belt. This is because the houses in the Himalayan and the hilly belts are constructed of stone masonry, which are vulnerable during earthquakes barring those in Jumla and its neighbourhood where traditional earthquake resistant measures are in place. The rural Terai is going to be less affected compared to its urban counterpart due to the use of light construction materials such as hay, thatch and bamboo. But the urban Terai will be adversely affected due to the use of concrete materials. The buildings in Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur are going to come staggering to the ground. So, there is a need of retrofitting of the stone masonry houses as well as the city core houses.
The students of Institute of Engineering have dissipated much research successfully in five districts of Kathmandu, Dolakha, Sindhupalchowk, Kaski and Ramechhap. The strengthening of the stone masonry houses consists of punching holes at one metre centre on the walls, laying the walls with bamboo mesh in the interior as well as exterior and tying them steadfastly with the gabion wire. The gabion wire also ties the joists, the rafters, and the ridge. This will give enough time for escape even if the building collapses. This technology is rural-based and the cost is Rs 2,000 only.
There is the possibility of minimising earthquake risk but the authorities have still not woken up to the reality that the losses due to a large earthquake would be so overwhelming that it will dwarf the losses faced by the country so far.