April 25, 2019 02:00 AM NPT
Four years after earthquakes
We have come a long way since the devastating earthquakes ruined our lives, infrastructures and shook our collective conscience four years ago. The April 25 earthquakes and the series of aftershocks thereafter in 2015 killed around 9000 people, destroying thousands of houses and rendering people shelter-less. That was the horror Nepal had not experienced for many years. As we commemorate the days of tragedies now, it is time to evaluate progress in reconstruction, measures adopted to ensure earthquake resilient structures and preparedness in case of similar disaster. While considerable progress has been made on first and some measures noticed in the second aspect, Nepal does to seem to have done much with regard to preparedness. According to the most recent data of National Reconstruction Authority (NRA), 80 percent of private houses have been reconstructed, 382,277 affected households moved to newly built homes and 230,658 are about to complete reconstruction process. Around 54 percent of damaged health institutions have been reconstructed, and 59 percent progress has been made in rebuilding heritage sites. Likewise, 59 percent of damaged schools have also completed reconstruction. Out of total 7,553 schools that needed reconstruction, 4,476 have already been rebuilt while 1,772 are currently under reconstruction. Thanks to increased effort of NRA for expediting reconstruction but this still leaves many households, schools, government buildings and health institutions waiting to be rebuilt.
Needless to say, lack of funds has been a major hurdle in the process. NRA estimates that it still needs Rs 429 billion to complete the reconstruction works. There are issues with mobilizing resources and personnel but they are not insurmountable challenges now. Situation now is far more favorable than two years ago, when we did not have elected bodies in local levels and when load-shedding and economic blockade had resulted in scarcity of building materials. We have more functioning institutional mechanisms and enabling environment to complete reconstruction works. Stable and strong government has meant that government and NRA can negotiate with donor agencies for additional support for Nepal’s reconstruction efforts. Though much focus was laid on building earthquake -resilient homes in the initial days, there has not been satisfactory outcomes. Yes, thousands of homes rebuilt in affected districts like Gorkha and Sindhupalchok have observed building codes but in other parts of the country, there are reports of people flagrantly flouting these codes.
This is a serious issue because studies have suggested that Nepal is still vulnerable to earthquakes of high magnitude. Recent study by scientists at Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich) shows that Nepal still faces threat of much stronger earthquake with magnitude of eight or more. Only Wednesday morning, 5.2 magnitude quake shook Kathmandu and surrounding districts, sending panic among people. This shows that earthquakes can hit us any time. Thus while our efforts should be directed toward completing reconstruction works and ensuring compliance of building codes, we must equally focus on preparedness measures. The year 2015 showed the scale of damage earthquake can cause, ways to minimize those damages and urgency of preparedness measures to be adopted. We can ignore the hard lesson of 2015 tragedy only at the cost of possible future damages, even peril.