Nepal | May 22, 2019

Post-quake reconstruction: Capacity building, resilience must

Dipendra Gautam

Learning lessons from central Nepal would be pivotal for mid-western and far-western  hills, as the seismicity in the Nepal Himalayas should be understood. Such lessons may be instrumental for assuring structural safety in case of future disasters in any part of the country

Reconstruction. Illustration: Ratna SagarShrestha/THT

Reconstruction. Illustration: Ratna SagarShrestha/THT

Despite the fact that reconstruction should be adhering to modern scientific dimensions, capacity building of technicians and engineers is absent in gearing up the reconstruction works effectively, universities haven’t trained properly, exposures are not efficient and sharing and learning in terms of innovation is recessive in Nepal. In this verge of reconstruction time, hurried recruitment and ad-hoc deployment of engineers and technicians may be outlandish efforts to wrap up the reconstruction rather than assuring seismic safety and resilient constructions.

The framework of reconstruction has not solidified yet at least in terms of structural resilience. The product flyers and architectural aesthetics are ridiculous, as these structures shouldn’t fly in the sky so that structural performance is  compromised  for the sake of aesthetics. It is high time for the government of Nepal to reclassify the designers and analysts and associated analysis and design frameworks. What is happening till date is a substandard practice of structural analysis and detailing, which some day will be bitterer than our past governed by the seismic activities across the entire Hind-Kush-Himalaya.

Apart from this, professional societies should feel happy in empowering the members affiliated in truly resilience concepts. The parried discussions of empowering seismic codes in Nepal should be unrestrained, providing an eased window to penetrate the justified innovations and researches adhering to Nepalese structures across the globe.

Quite often Nepalese building codes are more restrained to emotional dialogs. Indeed, patrimony counts a lot, though there are thousands of ways for constructing edifices with seismic safety. Moreover, they are truly justified as well. Several I/NGOs are trying to rule out the justified ways of constructions with their hit-and-trial concepts. This is pitiful if Nepal endorses them.

The diversified cultural setups in Nepal could be addressed by the edifices adhering to patrimony. In doing so, the labyrinth of imported yet vague structural forms and techniques can be kept aside. Besides this sustainable technology transfer could be assured for the local masons using indigenous materials. That the lucrative concepts of enforcing sophisticated materials and technology takes Nepal nowhere may be true. The government of Nepal will be funding the materials.

However regular maintenance and strengthening will be in disarray as none of the importers will take care of their sold items. So it’s the Nepalese government who should judge with sagacity what materials are sustainable and assure patrimony in order to assure routine maintenance and strengthening at the local level with low cost. The frame of the construction efforts should also have associated risk transfer frameworks like insurance of land and edifices. It is a must for all households going to be reconstructed under government funding. When the government funds a house, surely it should take responsibility of future events and possible damages in terms of multi-faceted disasters like landslide, fire, earthquake and others.

Along with reconstruction, land-to-edifice insurance can be effective to assure housing for all, even in case of disasters in future. However, although the government is doing advocacy in some of the prototypes developed by agencies, it is the people’s right to ask for the structural analysis of those structures and also the people deserve to ask  what kind of land is suitable for such housing  if the land for reconstruction is not proper. People again deserve to acquire safer land-plots for housing construction. By assessing the land plots and construction sites, it would be wise to assure housing for earthquake victims. The landslides triggered and the fissures in central Nepal are yet to be considered for reconstruction efforts.

At least the government should map the safer settlements and development of centralized housing system in safer areas should be promoted rather than merely providing funds for houses to the local people. In addition to this, the government can construct houses and sell them to earthquake victims with the committed fund. In doing so, resilience, safety, accountability, employment and rapidity in construction can be expected if the consultants do not cheat the earthquake victims.  It’s true till date that the corruption in government to consultant level has severely affected the quality of construction, even in critical facilities, which is obvious for common construction.

This is the appropriate time for Nepal to wipe out reckless efforts in construction practices and also high time for engineers, consultants and the government to assure multi-hazard resilient structures for the earthquake victims.

It is almost a global trend that after each disaster localized settlements become more resilient than others beyond the circumference. However, learning lessons from central Nepal would be pivotal for mid-western and far-western  hills, as the seismicity in the Nepal Himalayas should be understood. Such lessons may be instrumental for assuring structural safety in case of future disasters in any part of the country.

The writer is Researcher in Structural Earthquake Engineering

A version of this article appears in print on April 06, 2016 of The Himalayan Times.

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