Earthquake Safety Day marked amid growing fears of quake

Published On: January 16, 2017 01:20 AM NPT By: Ram Saran Tamang

Govt backtracks from its earlier commitment on imposing strict building code

KATHMANDU, Jan 16: With memories of pain and devastations caused by the 2015 earthquakes still fresh in the minds of the people, Nepal marked the 19th Earthquake Safety Day on Sunday and resolved to be better prepared to cope with such disasters in the coming days.

The day is observed every year on Magh 2 as per the Bikram Sambat calendar to mark the great earthquake of Nepal in 1934, which had killed around 8,000 people. The Earthquake Safety Day this year commemorates the 82nd anniversary of the quake.

With the slogan 'Earthquake Resistant Buildings and Infrastructures for Community Resilience,' the day was observed nationwide to 'reaffirm the national commitment toward saving lives and lessening potential losses from future earthquakes' as well as to form strategies for Earthquake Risk Management. Awareness rallies were organized in all 75 districts to raise awareness about the risks of earthquakes and safety measures.

However, merely celebrating Earthquake Safety Day will not make the country safe from earthquakes, said the participants. The day was marked even before the Gorkha earthquake of 2015, yet the quake's aftermath turned out to be quite deadly. The recent quake alone had claimed about 9,000 lives and injured at least 22,000.

Immediately after the devastation in 2015, the government had indicated to take stern measures to minimize loss of lives and properties. It had temporarily banned construction of houses above two stories along with other tougher provisions for building construction. The government, however, has now backtracked from enforcing the strict provisions. 

Asked about the government's failure to enforce tougher provisions while constructing new buildings, Gopi Krishna Khanal, joint-secretary at the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development, admitted that the government has now allowed construction of buildings above two stories provided that the house owners can ensure 30 percent of open space around the premises of their house.

As a part of ensuring safer construction of buildings, the ministry has instructed all 217 municipalities to implement the building by-laws introduced after the earthquake. The by-laws mandate the local authorities not to approve housing designs unless they have 30 percent of open space and walls not more than 4 feet tall.  

"The main reason for such large extent of causalities is because the building code introduced in 2002 was not implemented effectively," added Khanal, claiming that about 95 percent of lives would have been saved in the recent earthquake if the building code was strictly followed.

Krishna Bahadur Raut, disaster focal person and joint secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs, stressed the need of staying vigilant to reduce the risks of disaster. 

Nepal ranks 11th in the world in terms of earthquake risk and witnesses minor and major earthquakes on regular intervals. Seismological studies have clearly indicated that the entire country, especially along the major active faults in east-west alignment, is prone to the disaster. The country lies in the active seismic zone V (very severe intensity zone).

Currently, the country follows the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2030), which aims to achieve 'substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities and countries.'

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