Himalayan Times: The United Nations observes the Disaster Risk Reduction Day every year on the 13th of October. The United Nations is focusing on urban disaster risk reduction this year because of the higher contribution of the urban areas to the GDP of the country compared to their rural counterpart. In Nepal, the urban areas contribute 68 per cent to the GDP and in our northern neighbor China it is still more standing at 78 per cent. In Nepal, some programs are being held with the slogan “Women and Girls- the [In]visible force of resilience” with the twin purposes of raising the awareness of the people towards disaster risk reduction followed by the need to highlight the attention to be paid to women and children in disaster situation because of their relatively higher vulnerability.
This is very necessary in Nepal because it is said to be the eleventh and thirtieth most vulnerable country in the world with respect to earthquake and water induced disasters respectively. It is quite high up in the list of the countries vulnerable to climate change as well. Its capital city Kathmandu enjoys an ironic distinction of being the most vulnerable place in the globe to earthquake. A study made in the nineties indicated the likely demise of 21,000 people in the Kathmandu valley should a major earthquake strike, but now it will be many more in view of the migration of the people to the capital city in large numbers.
Though floods, landslides, fire manifest as disasters in annual basis, earthquake is the most towering of the disasters in the country. Needless to say, the country should be prepared for earthquakes to avoid what could be a virtual paralysis. It is not that Nepal did not have the earthquake resistant building construction culture in the country in the past. The traditional houses of Jumla are all earthquake resistant whether they belonged to the poor or the rich. It is unfortunate that the rest of the country could not emulate this good practice. More embarrassing is our inability to draw lessons from it. Consequently, the so called modern buildings in Jumla have been constructed sans earthquake resistant technology with the result that they are mostly likely to come crumbling to the ground in the wake of a large earthquake in the future.
This is mainly because the disaster risk reduction is not given the required priority by the Government in our country despite the fact that it can incur astronomical loss. A deaf ear turned to the approval of the newly drafted Act of Disaster Risk Reduction is a glaring example. It is gathering dust since the last decade in one of
the shelves of the parliament. As a result, disasters administration is being
carried out following the provisions made in the then forerunner but now an outdated Natural Calamity Relief Act which focuses on post disaster events like rescue and relief while the emphasis should be on preparedness activities. No wonder then that we are heading for a colossal failure as we are failing to prepare which is tantamount to prepare to fail.
The earthquake of the year 1988 is said to have created a loss of 24 per cent of the nominal GDP. If the like of the 1934 earthquake occurs in the country, it will engulf whole of our year’s GDP as evident by the earthquake of Haiti which resulted not only in the death of 316,000 people but also a loss of$ 8 billion equivalent to 120 per cent of the GDP. In other countries, a full Ministry or at least a Department is the responsible institution while in Nepal the erstwhile Department of Disaster Prevention and Narcotics was reduced to a Unit and is now a mere shadow of its former shelf, a solitary Emergency Operation Center exists in the precincts of the Home Ministry.
Disasters are great levelers; they do not distinguish rich from the poor. In China in the year 2008, 80000 people perished in the Sichuan province. But its major city Chengdu remained unaffected mostly due to the use of earthquake resistant construction employed. Many rivers were damned but China successfully evacuated people in the downstream and drained them without causing any damage. But in Nepal, in the event of such river damning which is very likely in the aftermath of the earthquake, there is no other alternate apart from making a meek surrender and getting washed away as could be seen in the last Pokhara flood episode.
What can be done to avoid this impending seismic disaster? The solutions are simple. Firstly, new constructions should make use of earthquake resistant technology. The existing structures should be assessed and retrofitted to be able to face the forthcoming earthquake. The New Zealanders did it successfully under the leadership of its Mayor Bob Parker. As a result, there were virtually no deaths in the earthquake of the year 2010. If this is a long term solution, some immediate measures such as the placement of a black box resembling a box shelter in every living unit can save people from possible death. For this the local Government has to be proactive and be able to work fast like Mayor Bob Parker of Christchurch did.
Author: Dr. Pokharel is the Director, Center for Disaster Studies, IoE
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