Early warning

Published On: July 2, 2016 12:25 AM NPT By: Republica  | @RepublicaNepal

Lalitpur school deaths
The tragedy that unfolded at the Pushpanjali Boarding School located at Lalitpur’s Toukhel on Friday, leading to the deaths of two young students and injuries to 20 others, perfectly epitomizes the great risk school-going students face in the 14 districts affected by last year’s earthquakes.

Pushpanjali School had been operating from a temporary structure built after the original school was badly damaged by earthquakes. The thin wooden wall of the temporary building easily gave way when a brick wall collapsed on it, following a heavy downpour. The brick wall, apparently put up by a builder plotting his piece of land, should not have been allowed so close to the school classroom. The wall was built on land that was a level higher than the land on which the school stood. It was a disaster waiting to happen. We fear that other students of the 5,000 schools that were partially or completely destroyed by last year’s earthquakes could be facing a similar risk. Many of the rebuilt schools, like the one in Lalitpur, are on uneven land. Some other schools whose buildings were partially damaged by earthquakes have started allowing students into the damaged buildings without adequate repairs.

The incessant monsoon rains only add to the risks. Hundreds of schools need to be shifted to safe locations. Other school buildings need to be pulled down urgently. Following last year’s earthquakes, the damaged schools were in a hurry to reopen. Parents, having to constantly watch over their children who were not going to their schools after the earthquakes, were also putting pressure on these schools to open soon. School building safety regulations were easily bypassed in this rush. The school operators with the right connections or those who could bribe government school inspectors, it was widely suspected, were easily given the green ‘safe’ stickers without due process. Permits were as randomly handed out for the schools looking to build temporary structures, with little regard for the vulnerability of these new structures to monsoon floods and landslides. Thankfully, Friday’s incident in Lalitpur was an exception. There have been no other reports of school buildings giving way to torrential rains. But unless we fortify our school buildings or, alternately, shift them to safe locations, we fear such tragedies could be repeated.

On Wednesday night, three people were killed in Darchula district when a landslide buried their house.  The Kathmandu-Mungling highway remains badly disrupted as landslides have blocked roads at various places. These incidents are reminders of the ever-present dangers posed by the mad monsoon rains. So we would like to urge the government to urgently inspect all school buildings in quake-affected districts and re-evaluate their safety—properly this time. The lives of millions of students could be on the line. The tragedy in Lalitpur on Friday offers a timely, if a cruel, warning. Just punishing the builder of the brick wall that collapsed over Pushpanjali School— as the government has promised to do—is not enough. No other children should die because of the neglect of those who are supposed to protect them.

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