KATHMANDU, August 1
Gorkha earthquake and its aftershocks turned many buildings and walls to rubbles. Even greater number of houses and walls were severely cracked by the earthquake and some of these were so severely cracked that they were given support. The support was meant to be an intermediary solution to buy some time for procuring means to demolish the structure. But with the aftershocks thinning out gradually, it seems people have forgotten the quake jolts and are therefore undermining the risk that these cracked structures pose to human life.
Its not only the walls, but there are many old houses in the valley that are serious threats to pedesterians but still are not pulled down and are once again being inhabited- endangering lives of people living and those walking along the pavement. A house on Tripureshwar -Thapathali road section was given support of wooden poles after it fragile structure was weakened by the quake. This house that stands on a major pavement can come down any day and be the reason of the pavement commuters and its inhabitants. But instead of pulling down the house to avert such a potential tragedy, the house owner had pulled off the wooden pole support and got new tenants for the house.
Bishwo Sarkar, owner of the flower shop in this same building had shifted to another house after it was severely damaged by the earthquake jolts. When those wooden pillars support those pillars were gradually taken down, he assumed that the owner was planning to demolish it. But it was never taken down. He finds it precarious to walk through the pavement alongside the building everyday and feels concerned for all the pedestrians that walk on the pavement, unaware of the eminent danger from the rattled structure.
“Wooden pillar support given to around a half dozen building in this area has been removed. It’s very dangerous to walk on the pavement, knowing that these houses can come down crashing any moment,” said Sarkar expressing amazement at the way the house owner and the government has remained indifferent to public safety.
Similar sight was seen around old quarters of Patan and these have been also turned back to normal, forcefully. Though the structures are visibly fragile the supporting pillars have also been removed and no initiation has been taken to demolish.
“With the life getting back to normalcy, residents and the government authority are reluctant to demolish the fragile structure,” said Prashanta Khanal, program coordinator at Clear Air and Urban Mobility, an organization that advocates pedestrians’ safety. “It is pathetic to see that both the authority and the locals seem to have forgotten the damage caused by the Gorkha earthquake.”
The Department of Urban Development and Building Code (DUEDBC) has held responsible boundary walls for many deaths during the quake. Narayanhiti Museum’s eastern wall collapse had claimed three lives, Nepal Police report shows. Besides this accounted for report, all the deaths triggered by walls remain unaccounted for.
KMC marking vulnerable walls for demolition
Meanwhile, even after the three months of the Gorkha earthquake complaints seeking demolition of buildings and boundary walls at the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) keep coming.
Concerned authorities have demolished 2600 houses that posed life threats to the people in the various localities. Around 50 boundary walls have been pulled down by the KMC.
Chief of the Implementation Department at the KMC, Dhanapati Sapkota said that people have been showing pull down their boundary walls though they do not meet the building code. However, the institution has started marking such vulnerable walls on the basis of local complaints. “Our first priority is to demolish the walls built without pillar and those which are taller than four feet from the base,” Sapkota said.
The draft amendment of the Building Code proposes a new provision for erecting the boundary walls. The draft which is under review suggests that an individual has to take the permission to erect walls above 1.2 meters.
Urban Road Standard
In the wake of the Gorkha earthquake, the government is mulling on redesigning the urban road standard to ensure the safety of the pedestrians. This is somehow missing in the existing policies.
According to Ramesh Singh, deputy director general at the DUEDBC, the new urban road standard would highly prioritize the safety of the pedesterians and manage separate cycling lanes in the Valley and the emerging cities.
Likewise, the new standard would emphasize more on zebra crossing rather than the overhead bridge. “The pedestrians’ lives must not be at risk due to any infrastructure during disaster. This is under high priority now,” he stated.
The Department of Road is also working on designs of the overhead bridges. These bridges will be easily accessible to passersby and will be friendly to senior citizens and people with physical disabilities.