Sunday, 3 March, 2024

Quake Safety Lessons

The nation marked the Earthquake Safety Day on Thursday to remember the devastating mega quake of 1934. The Nabbe Salko Bhuichalo is deeply entrenched in the Nepali memory, be that of those who physically experienced it or others who heard the recollections told by their parents. Though 85 years have passed since the major natural disaster struck the nation, the lessons learned are still relevant and will remain so for generations to come. Most recently, the nation suffered the devastating jolt of powerful earthquake on April 25, 2015 which killed around 9,000 people and injured tens of thousands more. Between the two mega quakes of 1934 and 2015, a powerful earthquake also rattled eastern Nepal on August 21, 1988. The earthquake itself does not generally kill us but the physical structures we have built do. So, the degree of quake safety depends on the jolt resisting strength of our homes, offices, bridges, monuments and other structures.

One of the lessons learned from the recurring quake phenomenon is that Nepal is located in active seismic zone and is thus prone to this natural disaster. Though it is hard to predict the exact timing of earthquakes, it has been apparent that Nepal is prone to the occurrence of powerful earthquakes in the range from half to one century. In between, many jolts of various intensities are also likely. Thus, it is necessary to keep in mind that this disaster can occur any time and weak structures around us may collapse and crumble and pose danger. Although earthquakes cannot be predicted and averted, we can make a huge difference in terms of minimising loss of lives and property damage by constructing quake resistant infrastructure and following safety rules. In this respect, the earthquakes themselves present distinct characteristics from which we should draw lessons and stay prepared for the future.

The Gurkha Earthquake of 2015, the mega tremor to shake the nation after 81 years, has added another lesson and prompted government authorities and the individuals to move ahead by the principle of Build Back Better. This is about constructing or reconstructing homes, schools, offices, hospitals, temples, bridges and other structures in such a way that can withstand the impact of earthquakes and other natural disasters. The government has made massive spending in the reconstruction projects and significant progress has been made to rebuild around half a million private homes. As the reconstruction deadline of five years approaches, it is important to speed up the works. Even more important is the need to meet safety standards of the reconstructed homes, heritages and other infrastructure. Some delays may be excusable but rebuilding weak structures should not be tolerated. In this regard, the role of technical experts, construction workers and the quality of construction materials are very important.

Given the intensity of the 2015 earthquake, casualties are luckily low due to the timing of the disaster. Had it not been a Saturday noon, the time at which people were awake and students were not at schools and colleges, more lives could have been lost. However, we may not be so lucky every time. Therefore, we should build disaster resistant homes and other infrastructure and should not leave things to chances. The Build Back Better is the foolproof mantra for quake safety.