Nepal | June 02, 2020

Scientific research Beyond: Gorkha earthquake

Dipendra Gautam
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Our reconstruction has not been as per expectation. The problem is not with the ongoing discussions, but the root of the problem lies within the existing building regulations

Illustration, Ratna Sagar Shrestha./THT

It has been two years since the Gorkha earthquake devastated central Nepal. As the country prepares to commemorate the second anniversary of the earthquake, tarps are not yet wrapped and two freezing winters and two torrential monsoons have already passed. Recently the National Reconstruction Authority vowed that

Recently the National Reconstruction Authority vowed that two thirds of the houses constructed after the Gorkha earthquake are non-earthquake-resistant and the looming shake may also disfigure whatever was raised above the ground following the devastating events of 25 April and 12 May, 2015.

The crucial quest is, are the remaining one third buildings quake proof? If so, what level of shaking they are meant to sustain? It’s outrageous, most of the so-called quake proof housings are not compliant with the impending seismic hazards in Nepal and none till date has dared assure that such buildings can assure “life safety”, what everyone expects worldwide during earthquakes even though slight but non-fatal damage may occur on structures.

Virtually, no progress has been seen in terms of “earthquake resistant construction” since the 1988 Udyapur earthquake. Immediately after the event, an engineer Dr. Satyendra Gupta prepared a detailed report along with some counter measures for interventions in the following days, and it should be brainstormed why, with such progress in structural earthquake engineering and technology, we are still forced to revolve around that?

This will open discussions as to whether we are going northward or not. Improved housing past to present constructions can’t be termed exactly earthquake resistant in Nepal and was not discussed after the 1988 or 2015 earthquakes; rather Brahm Shamsher Rana mentioned improved techniques in his famous account “Nepalko Mahabhukampa 1990 BS” wherein he has mentioned the selection of proper construction sites to use proper materials, among other things.

A grave concern herein is how northward we are going in the 21st century. For instance, after the 1934 great quake in eastern Nepal the then government managed 95% of the total fund internally and prioritized reconstruction with full-fledged efforts and our forefathers handled everything.

It’s sarcastic if not pitiful that the victims of the 2011 earthquake in eastern Nepal are reported to be waiting for support still. This indicates which direction and priority we have.

Several people from their platform are warning the government and stakeholders not to be overly dependent on emotional reconstruction models and housing prototypes.

The priority is important while choosing between safety or other things. Politics was the first hindrance to reconstruction followed by technocratic indifference. People were warned not to construct houses before models were developed, but the National Reconstruction Authority says that two thirds of the houses do not fulfill the requirements, and those which do are not sufficient.

A must-do by the public is to ask if they are assured safety and to what extent from future quakes and after how many years they are supposed to strengthen/repair or reconstruct their house and who is insuring for such periodic strengthening as well as reconstruction.

One side that is always forgotten and neglected is scientific research and the absorption of outcomes of scientific researches in Nepal. The government, academic institutions and other agencies don’t care about scientific researches, neither are they sagacious to spend on scientific researches.

Scientific researches in the Nepali scenario are not even considered during or before reconstruction kicks off. And it is not assured that the scientific progress made for Nepali structures will be enforced in the future. Rooted bureaucracy and dictated way of “We do this in this way irrespective of progression” need to be changed.

Better models would have been developed with scientific modeling for rural buildings as well as any other types of housing.

However government, reconstruction authority and government line agencies merely held consultations when people put forth their own ideas to highlight their so tagged ‘earthquake resistant’ models and none provided a reliable basis. It is easy to propose reinforcement bars for Barpak but what happens when the budget of steel to be used in a house is higher than that of overall construction and government subsidy?

Exemplary reconstructions do exist on earth: the reconstruction efforts and successful accomplishments after the Lisbon and Emilia-Romagna are some. Our reconstruction has not been as per expectation. The problem is not with the ongoing discussions, but the root of the problem lies within the existing building regulations.

It is high time for Nepal to formulate a reliable, applicable and self-sufficient building code at least in the aftermath of the Gorkha earthquake.

As public safety is the highest priority for any nation, formulation of an accountable and reliable building code is an integral part of assuring public safety against several natural as well as anthropogenic forces. Blaming the public for not following the regulations doesn’t sound convincing,. and it is the concern of the government to enforce efficient civil protection measures.

Gautam is a researcher in structural earthquake engineering

A version of this article appears in print on April 25, 2017 of The Himalayan Times.

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