On the tremorfront

Nepal has been ranked 11th in the world and 2nd in South Asia for its proneness to earthquakes. The residents of Kathmandu Valley and other densely populated towns face much higher risks of death and destruction because of the haphazardly built houses and high density of population. Every eight years, Nepal and its surrounding Himalayan region witness an earthquake of the magnitude of about 7.5 on the Richter scale. But despite several warnings and seminars on disaster preparedness and management, the authorities concerned have failed to come up with concrete measures to cope with the situation that may arise from a major earthquake. Unlike Japan and other countries falling in the danger zone, there is the lack of awareness programmes in Nepal and the level of public awareness is, therefore, pitiably low.

According to the National Society for Earthquake Technology Nepal, for example, the hospitals in Kathmandu are ill equipped to handle large-scale casualties. A survey conducted in the Valley’s 14 hospitals in 2003 showed that most hospitals were not well prepared to deal with major earthquakes because of structural and non-structural shortcomings. Moreover, most of them are themselves poorly built and are in densely populated areas. If the intensity of the 1934 earthquake were to repeat itself, it would be difficult to take the injured to hospital, as access roads, bridges and other infrastructure would have been damaged. Therefore, on the one hand the government would do well to see that an effective building code is followed in view of this horrifying prospect, and on the other it would be advisable to undertake a seismic vulnerability analysis of all buildings and issue a timely warning. It would also be a good idea to educate the people on the steps to be taken to minimise loss and damage when an earthquake strikes. At least, the government could do much more in those areas where heavy expenditure is not involved.