Nepal | August 07, 2020

Seismic agility and structural fragility

Dipendra Gautam
Share Now:

On April 25, 2015, the devastating Gorkha Earthquake destroyed around half a million residential houses and ramshackled another half a million in 31 districts. After the Gorkha Earthquake, improved housing construction is widely practised in urban as well as rural Nepal, especially in the earthquake-affected areas. Meanwhile, the newer constructions are facing multifaceted challenges as Nepal is frequently affected by other natural hazards, such as fires, landslides and floods, among others. To this end, the room for improvement in the housing sector has grown bigger of late as public concern regarding occupants’ safety has widened.

New studies on seismic and multi-hazard vulnerability of residential dwellings in Nepal by our research group reflect very high vulnerability of Nepali residential buildings. The grim future of enormous losses can be downscaled only if the existing highly vulnerable more than three and half million buildings are strengthened. Strengthening priorities are direly needed, but before that, reliable statistics would be needed for prioritisation of immediate to long-term countermeasures. The focus now should be the highly vulnerable stone masonry buildings after Gorkha towards the west.

Fundamentally, buildings beyond Gorkha or in the far eastern region of Nepal were already shaken to some extent by the Gorkha Earthquake and the eastern Nepal earthquake of 2011. However, they may have seldom shown signs of damage and are thus being occupied without any interventions. It is required that building service age be defined in Nepal now on. Else, uninterrupted use of buildings for generations is quite common, and even such buildings lack periodic improvements and strengthening.

National Reconstruction Authority apart, there should be another authority to look after the strengthening and retrofitting measures. However, in many locations, new construction would be more economical than retrofitting. So, sectoral priorities and assessment of availability of construction materials are pivotal.

The next batch of vulnerable constructions would be the already constructed buildings before the endorsement of the new building code in Nepal. As the new code will be functional sometime soon, many existing buildings that were designed as per the existing regulations may be non-compliant. In this case, seismic improvement is also required for all such structures.

The Gorkha Earthquake did not solely hit the residential and public infrastructure sector. Infrastructure losses were also enormous as strategic road networks, hydropower projects, water supply systems, telecommunication networks and many other infrastructure projects sustained considerable losses. This situation demands resilient infrastructure for better preparedness in the future.

The strategic highway that connects Nepal and China is yet to be fully operational due to the earthquake and cascading natural hazards. This, in fact, should be an eye-opener for Nepal and other countries that are prone to multiple cascading and independent natural hazards. Focus on multi-hazard vulnerability assessment, periodic condition assessment and life-cycle analyses should be Nepal’s priorities. The context has changed. It is now easier to save lives with resilient and safer buildings.

The lack of scientific studies and understanding of Nepali infrastructure is also a grave challenge. Auditing multi-hazard vulnerability of infrastructure can assure response, relief and recovery priorities. Insurance polices may also have the benefit of such audits. Manpower is also a big problem to perform high-level analyses and assessments of structures and infrastructure to assure their performance during multiple hazards.

The emergence of structural earthquake engineering practices is commendable; however, there is little to no effort to carry out multiple independent and cascading hazard impact analyses and associated loss scenario depiction. The government should establish an elite research institute to solve the real-life challenges due to multiple hazards and to develop rational indigenous solutions for particular problems and sites. Multi-disciplinary researches are required to face the challenges of multifaceted natural hazards. The framework of such an elite and dedicated research institute should integrate the academia, industry, public and private sectors to acquire necessary funds and to develop and implement innovative solutions.

In Nepal, natural hazards are always underestimated until they become disasters. So was the case with the Gorkha Earthquake. There were intense discussions regarding earthquake hazards in Nepal; however, preparedness was low if not insignificant. Most of the efforts were confined to documents only, and the sudden earthquake evoked devastation that was confined to rural neighbourhoods. Not only buildings and fatalities but also the infrastructure damage was irreparably large in the rural settings. Since then tens of thousands of people have not been able to streamline their livelihoods due to the damaged infrastructure. The case is best reflected in the once vibrant economic town but now deserted Barhabise of Sindhupalchowk.

The first and foremost effort to reduce the impacts of natural hazards, be they single or multiple, should kick off with land use planning and prioritisation. In the name of urban expansion, most of the arable lands that may show liquefaction-induced damage, as in the case of Khadka Gaon in Kathmandu, are being converted into land plots. If Nepal does not assure safe locations for settlements and infrastructure development, the grim future will be even grimmer.

Gautam is a researcher in structural earthquake engineering.


Follow The Himalayan Times on Twitter and Facebook

Recommended Stories:

More from The Himalayan Times:

International Commission of Jurists calls for transparency and justice

KATHMANDU: International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), an international non-government organisation which works as advocate for justice and human rights, has called upon the Government of Nepal to undertake substantial reforms in order to ensure that the wide-ranging constitutional and political re Read More...

Industry's violation of COVID-19 safety protocol causes virus transmission in community

DHARAN: An industry has been held responsible for transmission of coronavirus at community level in Dharan Sub-metropolitan City of Sunsari district.  Negligence on the part of Priti Valve and Fittings Industries Pvt Ltd located in the Industrial Area of Dharan-8 has been  blamed for local Read More...

China, coronavirus

360 new coronavirus cases detected; nationwide tally hits 21,750

KATHMANDU: The Ministry of Health and Population has recorded 360 new cases of the coronavirus infection on Thursday, taking the nationwide count to 21,750. The new infections were confirmed after testing 6,622 specimens through PCR method across the nation in the last 24 hours. As many as 419,57 Read More...

Kathmandu valley sees highest daily-tally as 87 cases surface Thursday

KATHMANDU: As many as 87 Covid-19 cases were reported in Kathmandu valley in the last 24 hours, the highest single day tally recorded yet. Of the 87 cases, 76 cases were identified in Kathmandu alone while Lalitpur reported ten infections. Only one case was detected in Bhaktapur district on Thurs Read More...

Highest number of deaths registered in a single day in Nepal, five reported in 24 hrs

KATHMANDU: Five more fatalities related to the coronavirus infection have been reported today by the Ministry of Health and Population. This is the highest single-day deaths recorded in Nepal. A 45-year-old male from Rangeli Municipality-8 of Morang passed away on Wednesday, August 5. He had just Read More...

Man City sign Bournemouth defender Ake

LONDON: Manchester City have signed defender Nathan Ake from Bournemouth on a five-year deal, the Premier League club announced on Wednesday. Financial details of the transfer were not disclosed but British media reported City paid Bournemouth 40 million pounds ($52 million) to sign the 25-year-o Read More...

Cabals and Cartels: Book launched in socially-distanced event

KATHMANDU: Rajib Upadhya, a formal journalist and longtime development professional, has come out with a book that argues that the cabals and the cartels, the dark underbelly of the transitioning Nepal, will hollow out every prospect for the change that we are still pining for if they are left to th Read More...