On road to re­cov­ery

Nepal has banned new con­struc­tions till it for­mu­lates a fresh build­ing code. Emerg­ing threat of land­slides com­pounds its trou­bles


AS NEPAL tries to re­cover from the mas­sive de­struc­tion of the April 25 earth­quake and the af­ter­shocks, it faces two chal­lenges. One, it has to en­sure that the re­con­structed build­ings are earth­quake-re­sis­tant. Two, it must pre­pare for the mon­soon sea­son, when mas­sive land­slides are likely to take place be­cause the earth­quake has desta­bilised the soil.

Af­ter the quake, the gov­ern­ment took about a month to de­cide on its strat­egy. But the de­ci­sions it has taken so far ap­pear to be in the right di­rec­tion.The first de­ci­sion came on May 18 un­der which a blan­ket ban on the con­struc­tion of new struc­tures, in­clud­ing houses, was im­posed till mid July. The

gov­ern­ment’s fo­cus is on re­view­ing build­ing codes and it wants them to be im­ple­mented in ru­ral ar­eas as well. Be­fore this or­der no per­mis­sion was needed for build­ing a house in vil­lages. Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and vil­lage de­vel­op­ment com­mit­tees across the coun­try have been di­rected not to give per­mis­sions for new con­struc­tions till the new code is an­nounced. The di­rec­tive will also be ap­pli­ca­ble to houses for which per­mis­sions were granted be­fore the quake but whose con­struc­tion did not start.

A Na­tional Re­con­struc­tion Coun­sel­ing Com­mit­tee has been con­sti­tuted un­der the lead­er­ship of the prime min­is­ter to make pol­icy de­ci­sions con­cern­ing re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and re­con­struc­tion ef­forts, while the Na­tional Plan­ning Com­mis­sion, a per­ma­nent na­tional-level plan­ning body, has pre­pared a re­con­struc­tion plan. As per this plan, the re­con­struc­tion process will have four phases. In the first phase, res­cue and re­lief oper­a­tions would be un­der­taken. The sec­ond and third phases in­clude steps for “pre­lim­i­nary re­vival” (nor­mal­is­ing life) and “in­fra­struc­tures re­vival” (es­ti­mate and eval­u­a­tion of im­pact of dis­as­ter). The fourth phase would be re­set­tle­ment, re­con­struc­tion and new con­struc­tions.

The dam­age

The gov­ern­ment is also pre­par­ing a re­port on the dam­age the quake caused.An as­sess­ment by the fi­nance min­istry says the fig­ure could be as high as US $10 bil­lion. Nepal has con­veyed this fig­ure to na­tional and in­ter­na­tional donor agen­cies. Econ­o­mists say the losses could be equal to 25 per cent of the coun­try’s gross do­mes­tic prod­uct.The grants, how­ever, would be de­cided af­ter the pro­posed na­tional and in­ter­na­tional donor con­fer­ences are held.

On May 28,the gov­ern­ment an­nounced that a na­tional donor con­fer­ence will be held on June 25.The ob­jec­tive of the con­fer­ence is to get fi­nan­cial aid for re­con­struct­ing dam­aged struc­tures and for re­set­tling vic­tims. Fi­nance min­is­ter Ram Sha­ran Ma­hat will co­or­di­nate this con­fer­ence. The date for the in­ter­na­tional donor con­fer­ence has not been de­cided but it is ex­pected to take place in July. The gov­ern­ment is likely to pro­vide a Post Dis­as­ter Needs As­sess­ment re­port to Nepal’s de­vel­op­ment part­ners and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity by June 10.

Im­pend­ing dis­as­ter

The steps the gov­ern­ment has taken so far would cer­tainly help in min­imis­ing de­struc­tion in fu­ture earth­quakes. But what can be done to pre­vent dam­age from land­slides? Dry land­slides have al­ready be­come a reg­u­lar phe­nom­e­non in the earth­quake-af­fected dis­tricts and ca­su­al­ties are be­ing re­ported ev­ery­day in news­pa­pers. But the mag­ni­tude and fre­quency of land­slides will be much more dur­ing the mon­soon. Madukar Upad­hya, a Nepal-based hy­drol­ogy en­thu­si­ast, de­scribes the sit­u­a­tion as very crit­i­cal. “There is not much we can do to pre­vent the dam­age be­fore the mon­soon,” he told Down To Earth.

The dev­as­ta­tion a land­slide can cause be­came ev­i­dent on May 24 at Bais­ari vil­lage in Myagdi dis­trict. Here, a mas­sive ar­ti­fi­cial lake—100 m deep and 3 km wide—was cre­ated af­ter the Kali Gan­daki river got dammed due to a land­slide. The in­ci­dent, which also buried 26 houses in the vil­lage,

oc­curred be­cause a nearby ridge had de­vel­oped huge cracks and holes af­ter the April 25 earth­quake. Six­teen hours af­ter the lake was formed, the Kali Gan­daki swept away the mud and re­gained the flow. All 36 gates of the Gan­dak dam on the Indo-Nepal bor­der have been opened af­ter the in­ci­dent to pre­vent dam­age to the dam in case of a flood. At a meet­ing of the Na­tional Dis­as­ter Man­age­ment, Mon­i­tor­ing and Di­rec­tion Spe­cial Com­mit­tee held the same day, Deputy Prime Min­is­ter and Home Min­is­ter Bam Dev Gau­tam said that high alert was be­ing main­tained in the lower ri­par­ian ar­eas.

Me­te­o­rol­o­gists have warned of a high risk of flash floods and even out­burst of gla­cial lakes dur­ing the mon­soon. Di­rec­tor gen­eral of the depart­ment of hy­drol­ogy and me­te­o­rol­ogy, Rhishi­ram Sharma, told re­porters at Bhak­ta­pur on May 26 that mon­soon in Nepal could be­gin in a week and un­der­lined the need of be­ing pre­pared to man­age dis­as­ters. Mild rain­fall of 2 mm was wit­nessed in some parts on June 3.

Upad­hya says that moun­tain slopes in 29 dis­tricts have been desta­bilised, and in 14 of them se­verely, due to the earth­quake. Thou­sands of land­slides in these dis­tricts have al­ready changed the face of the slopes since April 25. The cracks will de­velop fur­ther when rains come.

Ac­cord­ing to Janak Gole of San­cha vil­lage in Sind­hu­pal­chok, one of the worstaf­fected dis­tricts, his vil­lage has more than half-a-me­tre-wide cracks in the ground. “No­body is there to study these cracks. It seems like we have to aban­don our vil­lage and take refuge in the city.”

Gole, how­ever, is not aware of the stud­ies the gov­ern­ment has un­der­taken. The depart­ment of mines and ge­ol­ogy has sent 18 groups to six of the worst-af­fected dis­tricts for study­ing the risks of land­slides. Another anal­y­sis is be­ing done by the In­ter­na­tional Cen­tre for In­te­grated Moun­tain De­vel­op­ment. This is an in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal learn­ing and knowl­edge-shar­ing body serv­ing eight mem­ber coun­tries—China, Afghanistan, Myan­mar, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Pak­istan and In­dia. It has gath­ered in­for­ma­tion about over 3,000 land­slides from na­tional and in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions. It has also cre­ated its own data­base of over 250 land­slides and large mass move­ments gen­er­ated by the April 25 earth­quake and its af­ter­shocks (see ‘Dammed by land­slides’). Nepal’s min­istry for en­vi­ron­ment, science and tech­nol­ogy has also an­nounced that it will con­duct an en­vi­ron­ment im­pact as­sess­ment to study the ef­fects of the quake on the nat­u­ral re­sources in the coun­try.

Ex­perts say the start the coun­try has made is promis­ing. But it re­mains to be seen how ef­fec­tively it im­ple­ments its plans.

Dry land­slides have be­come reg­u­lar in the earth­quake-af­fected dis­tricts. Their mag­ni­tude and fre­quency will be much more dur­ing the mon­soon

Nepal's fi­nance min­istry

The cost of dam­age caused by the April 25 earth­quake could be US $10 bil­lion, says

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