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15th National Earthquake Safety Day: How prepared are we?


The 15th National Earthquake Safety Day was marked in the capital on Tuesday, commemorating the day in 1934 when 8,519 people lost their lives in Nepal in an 8.4 point Richter scale earthquake.

The National Society for Earthquake Technology (NSET) made an assessment in 2001 that if an approximately 8 Richter scale earthquake strikes with its epicenter around Kathmandu Valley, the fatalities could be as high as 40,000 and 300,000 more people could sustain injuries in the Valley alone.

Similarly, NSET estimated that 0.7 million people could be displaced and 60 percent of the physical infrastructure completely destroyed. The damage level could be even higher today as the Valley population, which was 1.5 million in 2001, has increased to 2.4 million.

The 6.8 Richter scale tremor that hit the Valley in 2011 killed three people in the capital when the boundary wall of the British Embassy collapsed. The incident raised widespread concern that the authorities are yet to act on disaster preparedness. What lessons have the government and non-government organizations working on disaster preparedness learnt and what are the ongoing preparations for the long-term? Nirjana Sharma of Republica talked with officials of Kathmandu Metropolitan City and NSET about the ongoing preparations.

Kathmandu Valley needs 50,000 volunteers to cope with a big disaster situation
Bijay Krishna Upadhyaya, Earthquake Technology Training Specialist at NSET.

What are the ongoing preparations since the 2011 earthquake?

Considering the possibility of an earthquake that could hit anytime and affect the maximum number of people, the first priority is rescue. NSET, in co-ordination with various NGOs and government agencies, has prepared 2,000 volunteers who have received special training in rescue and first aid after a disaster. But we are still far from meeting the figure of at least 50,000 volunteers who will be needed to bring a post-quake situation under control.

How will the volunteers reach the communities?

Disaster preparedness experts estimate that 15 percent of the total number of victims will need special attention, and 35 percent can be treated by setting up medical camps and temporary treatment sites. Similarly, 50 percent will need ordinary treatment. In this regard we are now on a positive path as community-based units are being set up. Local clubs can handle minor problems and the severe cases would be handled through joint efforts with the Nepal Army, Nepal Police and Armed Police Force.

Do you find the public interested in receiving volunteer training?

Yes, actually I feel that the organizations are unable to include all the people interested in participating in training. One instructor program can train a total of 24 participants at one time. Thus some 336 volunteers get trained in 14 programs. More people could participate if the organizations launch such trainings more frequently so that individuals can learn to administer first aid and take the injured to hospitals and health posts in the most efficient way.

What about hospital preparedness?

Very few hospitals have come forward seeking our help to make their infrastructure earthquake resistant. But the good news is that Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital (TUTH), under its emergency operation plan, recently ensured that equipment at the hospital would remain safe during earthquakes. The authorities have installed the medical equipment so that it will not get damaged unless the earthquake is powerful enough to bring down the hospital building.


Concrete and immediate action a must
Uttar Kumar Regmi, Urban Development Division chief, Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC)

Amid criticism that the authorities have failed to enforce the building code, what are the latest developments in enforcing the law that requires physical infrastructure to be earthquake-resistant?

As government officials, we must admit that we would face utmost damage even in a 6.8 Richter scale quake in the capital if the epicenter is nearby. We calculate that the damage caused here was equivalent to that of a 5 Richter scale quake as the epicenter was far away on the Nepal-India border in Sikkim. More than 1,000 construction workers and masons have received training in earthquake-resistant building methods through KMC and various government and non-government organizations. KMC itself trained 500 masons. If we evaluate the public awareness level, people have themselves come forward asking officials to visit their construction sites and also to make complaints. Similarly, the public has started complaining if they see someone breaching the building code in their neighborhood.

What further strategies is the metropolis adopting?

It has definitely become easier for us to convince people and ask them to take corrective steps at construction sites. At the same time, the recently held KMC council has formed a monitoring committee that will visit a given construction site in four stages.

The team of experts will monitor the structure at the foundation level, plinth level, rooftop level and after completion. Initially, KMC had designated only two stages: foundation level and after completion.

We are all set to begin a 3 percent sampling to study the status of urban infrastructures, as per a cabinet decision.

Has KMC penalized people breaching the building code?

The building code authorizes the government to scrap the license of engineers and designers who recommend the building of weak structures. But the situation is really worrisome when it comes to actually penalizing the culprits as many people are reluctant to heed the code.

But we can take advantage of the current sharp decline in construction work to spread awareness. A few years ago, KMC registered 5,000 new constructions; this has now dropped to 3,000. Similarly, construction of new apartments was not recorded last fiscal year and in the current fiscal year.

Is there any limit to the height of tall structures in the capital?

There are a few 16-17 storey apartment buildings registered to date. But due to land limitations vertical growth is the better option if earthquake resistivity is ensured.


Source: Republica Daily
Published on 2013-01-16 07:00:07

About nirjanasharma

Nepali Journalist.

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