Experts regularly remind us that Nepal falls in a seismic hazard zone. But what is making them fretful these days is the rapid urbanization taking place in different parts of the country without any forethought to earthquake vulnerabilities.
The government should start enforcing the National Building Code (NBC) and other earthquake-preparedness programs in all of the newly declared municipalities right away and start making all urban areas earthquake-resistant, opine the experts.
The government recently announced additional 133 municipalities. With this, the number of the municipalities has reached 191. Most of the VDCs upgraded to municipalities were rapidly urbanizing villages.
“Soon, buildings will be erected in the new municipalities in a haphazard manner. If we let the situation to continue, these areas will be highly vulnerable to damages from earthquake in just a few years. It is the right time the government should start enforcing the building code from now,” said Bijay Kumar Upadhaya, director of National Society for Earthquake Technology.
He said that the government should make the public understand that it is not the earthquake that kills people but the poor structures.
According to the United Nations Development Programs-Comprehensive Disaster Risk Management Program (UNDP-CDRMP), around 80 percent of the buildings in Nepal are vulnerable to earthquakes.
He said that the government should carry out awareness programs on earthquake safety along with enforcing the law.
The Building Act of 1998, National Building Code, 2008, and the Local Self-Governance Act make the building code mandatory for reducing the risk of loss of human lives and property in disasters such as earthquake and fire.
Even though the laws state that municipalities should mandatorily enforce the building code, only dozens of municipalities have done so. Naresh Giri, building code expert with UNDP-CDRMP, said that the government should first assess necessary human resources required for the implementation of the NBC in all the 191 municipalities.
“If the government cannot implement the code in all the municipalities, it can categorize them on the basis of population density and seismic risks and prioritize the implementation process,” opined he.
He said the implementation of the code in the municipalities can also be instrumental in raising awareness about earthquake safety in nearby villages.
Meanwhile, Minister of Federal Affairs and Local Development, Prakash Man Singh, said that the government is all set to direct executive chief of the municipalities to give priority to the earthquake-preparedness.
Pointing out that many government officials do not know much about earthquake safety, Upadhaya said, “It would be more effective if the government provides earthquake-preparedness training to the executive chiefs.”
Public urged to construct earthquake-resilient buildings
Government ministers have urged the members of public to construct earthquake resilient buildings to minimize loss of lives and property during a disaster.
Speaking at a program organized by the government on Friday to mark the 17th National Earthquake Safety Day, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Bam Dev Gautam said that people should construct earthquake resilient buildings to lessen the impact of disaster.
“Earthquake is bound to occur sooner or later. It cannot be avoided. So I urge people to construct buildings complying with the National Building Code,” Gautam said.
The government, in collaboration with various organizations, organized the program under the slogan “Earthquake may strike any time, be ready and prepared every time.”
The government has been organizing the National Earthquake Safety Day since 1998, coinciding with the date of the worst earthquake ever to hit Nepal in 1934, to raise awareness about earthquake and motivate the public to adopt safety measures.
An earthquake measuring 8.4 in the Richter scale hit Nepal in 1934, killing more than 8,000 people and damaging properties worth millions of rupees.
Likewise, Deputy Prime Minster and Minster for Federal Affairs and Local Development Prakash Man Singh stressed that public should give priority to earthquake preparedness.
“Kathmandu is highly vulnerable to earthquakes. But I believe that the risk from earthquake can be minimized if public realizes that constructing earthquake-proof buildings is not for the government but for their own safety,” said he, adding that the belief among public that the government enforced NBC to give public unnecessary hassles was misguided.
All the participants in the program also took part in the basic earthquake drill — Drop, Cover and Hold On.
Similarly, cycle rallies and photo exhibition was also organized to raise awareness about earthquake safety in Kritipur.
Meanwhile, various stakeholders said that the government should set a deadline for making all the buildings housing public institutions, including public schools, hospitals and government offices, resilient to earthquakes.
According to an economic survey released in 2011 by the Department of Urban Development and Building Construction, which is responsible for implementing the Building Act and the National Building Code, there are 68,085 government institutions that serve public, including 4,396 hospitals, 48,076 public schools and 2,744 campuses. Likewise, there are almost 2,850 government offices and 3,000 government-backed autonomous institutions, including various councils, committees, corporations and other organizations, among others.
Meanwhile, the stakeholders at the Earthquake Safety Day program noted that the government should update a decade-old NBC.