Nepal Earthquake and JICA President Visit
By- Buddhi Narayan Shrestha
A great earthquake of 7.9 Richter Scale occurred on 25 April 2015 at 11.56 AM in Nepal having its epicenter at Gorkha district Barpak area, south of China border. After 32 minutes it happened another earthquake measuring 6.5 Scale. Next day, it released another 6.9 Richter larger category earthquake. On the 12th May it happened another 6.8 scale after shock. After the main tremor of 25 April, 435 after shocks occurred till 25 February 2016 that is 307 days from the first tremor.
This made a terror and horror around the country. The natural disaster made hundreds of thousands of people homeless with entire villages flattened, across many districts of the country. Out of 75 administrative districts of Nepal, 14 districts have been highly affected and the other 17 districts are of moderately affected. It made hundreds of people penniless and destroyed innumerable physical infrastructure and heritage of historical importance.
Low income country like Nepal is the most affected by the earthquake because it does not have the required resources, infrastructure, and well established earthquake preparedness system. This disaster has affected the country in numerous ways as roads, telephone lines, monuments, transportation and communication links were destroyed for some period. Public utilities and energy supplies were disrupted for more than four days from 25 April.
Twenty-four countries including Japan, China, India, Israel, USA, UK military personnel had contributed for rescue operation and relief material distribution. They offered ready made foods and tents, blankets and mattress on destruction sites directly. Some of the countries brought their helicopters and high speed small military aircrafts with sensible trained dogs to conduct aftermath rescue operation. Some countries brought also drone to expose and create the real time data of the damaged structures.
Response of Japan
In response to the Nepal earthquake, JICA started supporting Nepal in the immediate aftermath of the disaster by sending rescue and medical teams, as well as emergency relief supplies. Close to one month since the first earthquake hit, international rescue and medical teams were sent to Nepal and relief and recovery activities were intensified.
In the mean time JICA President Dr. Akihiko Tanaka visited Nepal and organized a ‘Build Back Better (BBB)’ Reconstruction Seminar in Kathmandu on 25 May 2015, just one month of the great earthquake. In the seminar, six Japanese experts on safety engineering, earthquake engineering, disaster mitigation, disaster management, land and infrastructure management and urban planner presented papers. There were extensive discussions, participated by concerned Nepali professionals, authorities and decision makers.
JICA President Dr. Tanaka addressed the seminar and said ‘our experience in Japan has also shown that the post disaster period is an opportunity to reassess vulnerabilities and to build back better (BBB). People often hope for a speedy return to the status quo. But simply rebuilding communities to pre-disaster standards will not address the vulnerabilities that existed earlier and expose them to future disasters. As part of damage assessment conducted after the two simultaneous earthquakes in Nepal, seismologists highlighted that there is still pent-up seismic pressure in the region near Kathmandu and remote areas. This means that the region is at risk of suffering from more catastrophic earthquakes in the future. It is therefore imperative to ‘build back better’ by investing in preventative disaster risk reduction measures to rebuild a more disaster resilient society. Japan embraces this concept of BBB as a result of our dire past experiences. It is at the core of our own disaster risk reduction policy and also guides our international co-operation policy when supporting other countries affected by natural disasters.’
Reasons of earthquake in Nepal
45 million years ago, the Indian continent collided into Southern Tibet. The Indian continent is driven under Tibet, pushing lightweight sediments upwards and thus the formation of the Himalayas were taken place. Nepal sits across the boundary between India and southern Tibet of China which are still moving towards each other by 2 centimeters per year. This movement creates pressure within the earth, which builds up and can only be released through earthquakes. This is the only way earthquakes could happen in Nepal.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Kathmandu, the tectonic plate under the city shifted southwards 3 meter over another plate along an ancient Himalayan fault line, releasing a seismic shock wave with the strength of ‘more than 20 thermonuclear weapons.’
The geomorphologists estimated that hilly areas will face a high risk of landslides in the upcoming monsoon rainy season where there are ruptures and holes. Geologists are having fear that such natural events could result in landslide disaster along main highways. In fact, Kodari Highway that links China was blocked by landslides and it is not yet cleared till this date.
Due to continental collision, the Indian sub-continent pushes against Eurasian (Tibetan) Plateau as pressure will be accumulated and it uses to release in the form of earthquakes. It is notable that the constant crashing of the two plates formed the Himalayan mountain range.
Some Japanese, Chinese, American and British geologists, geophysics, and seismologists say that Nepal earthquake-2015 bears a typical and strange behavior than the previous quakes. It showed rather different nature with the quake of the rest of the world. It is commendable to make further research and detail study how this type of unusual character revealed by this Nepal earthquake. After the great earthquake of 25 April 2015, Nepal has become a laboratory of the world for the researchers of this field. Some of them have started to make a thorough and detail study and field-based on the spot research; how and why a chunk of 65 kilometer wide and 130 kilometer long landmass of Kathmandu area is being pushed its geographical position 3 kilometer south and south-west having 5.2 meter high in altitude. They are analyzing the behaviour of 435 aftershocks, as the frequency goes low and low in some weeks and in some other week it went suddenly higher Richter and then again down and down and again up.
Devastating earthquake of 25 April 2015 was released after 81 years of the last great earthquake in 1934 AD. If we look three hundred years history of the occurrence of the great earthquakes in Nepal, it faced in 1682, 1768, 1811, 1833, 1934 and the recent one in 2015. The largest one was of 8.4 Richter scale in 1934.
Damage caused by great earthquake-2015
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, recent great earthquake killed 8,978 persons, 22,321 people have been injured and 138 people disappeared. 79 foreigners have been killed, 50 injured and 108 are out of contact. Number of private houses and buildings fully destroyed reached as 602,592 and partially damaged houses have been counted as 284,482. Near about 2,688 government buildings have been destroyed and 3,777 partially damaged. After the earthquake, more than 800,00 people who lost their houses stayed in tents as temporary shelter. In the case of Kathmandu Valley, more than 13,000 families had stayed in tents and of them 600 families have to spent their night still under the temporary tents.
According to the Department of Archaeology, more than 60 ancient monuments, temples and archaeological structures in the Kathmandu Valley have been fully destroyed and more than 250 monuments have been partially damaged by the earthquake. Centuries-old buildings were destroyed at UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Kathmandu Valley, including some at the Kathmandu Durbar Square, the Patan Durbar Square and the Bhaktapur Durbar Square.
More than 133 temples, statues and museums were destroyed and nearly 608 damaged across the country. The devastating earthquake that rocked the country on 25 April damaged 116 heritage monuments only in the historic town of Bhaktapur. Of them, 67 were completely damaged while 49 have suffered partial damage, according to the Executive Officer of Bhaktapur Municipality. Such is the condition of Patan and Kathmandu Metropolitan City.
Educational institutions too were hit hard on April 25. According to data collected, a total of 12,483 classrooms of 4,389 schools in 41 districts have been completely destroyed.
The devastating earthquake has badly hit the country’s power sector as well, causing damage to more than 20 hydro-projects that were either generating electricity or were under construction. Data provided by the Independent Power Producers Association of Nepal and Nepal Electricity Authority show that quake affected operational hydro-electric projects with installed capacity of at least 176.8 megawatts. The damage caused by the earthquake has shaken investor confidence, as projects that have been forced to suspend power generation, will lose income source till the time everything is fixed. According to the preliminary survey of Nepal Electricity Authority, thousands of equipments such as distribution transformer, power transformer, steel poll, distribution panel board etc have been dismantled which may cost 5,000 million Rupees.
The earthquake has not only inflicted heavy human casualty, but also dealt a big blow to livestock, poultry and other sector related to agriculture. According to the data released by the Ministry of Agricultural Development, at least 8,031 buffaloes, cows and oxen; 14,495 goats, sheep and pigs and 147,222 poultry were buried under the debris of structures that collapsed during the earthquake.
Government policy for the time being
The government had set to put a two-month ban on approval of design for new houses and overall constructions. It was felt that poor implementation of building code has resulted in massive human casualties in recent earthquakes. The Ministry of Local Development prepared to limit houses within three storeys for the time being. Officials discussed whether the limit will apply to big complexes that are built on bigger spaces following the safety requirements. Commercial complexes may be permitted to build taller structures if they meet all the requirements with the suitability of soil capability.
Initial assessments by authorities have found that among the newly built structures mainly those constructed without acquiring municipal clearance were worst affected by the quake. The Ministry of Urban Development says- the proposed building code may necessitate the land to pass “risk-sensitive” tests before clearance and professional engineers to prepare a blueprint for buildings.
The government had completed Rapid Post Disaster Assessment (RPDA) of 26 high-rises, 134 buildings of 78 government offices, including 96 buildings of 20 hospitals in the Kathmandu Valley. According to the Department of Urban Development and Building Construction (DUDBC), the assessment had marked two high rise apartments, 14 government offices outside Singha Durbar (government central secretariat), five offices within Singha Durbar and five hospitals within the Kathmandu valley as unsafe for immediate use.
Residential houses and high-rise buildings in the city which had sustained minor to serious damages in the great quake of April 25 and a number of subsequent aftershocks have been further affected by the quake that shook the country on 12th May. While residential houses that had suffered serious damages during the 25th April quake have been reduced to rubble by 12th May quake, a number of houses and commercial buildings have suffered severe damages and are in a vulnerable state.
The government provided Rs. 40,000 to the relatives of the deceased person for the ritual performances of the dead body. Rastra (Central) Bank of Nepal circulated to all the commercial banks to provide housing loan up to Rs. 2.5 million with 2 percent interest for 20 years period. In the mean time the government decided to provide Rs. 15,000 for each earthquake victims to buy corrugated zinc sheets and other materials to build temporary shelter.
Contribution of Japan
In due course of time, newly appointed JICA President Mr. Shinichi Kitaoka visited Nepal on 20 December 2015 to extend assistance and support for the earthquake victims. Japan’s ODA provided to the government of Nepal, Ministry of Finance, equivalent to Rs. 26.24 billion. 22.74 billion for reconstruction of schools and the remaining 3.50 billion had been assigned for the Project on Rehabilitation and Recovery from Nepal Earthquake.
Under this Grant Agreement, JICA will provide up to one billion and five hundred million Japanese Yen (JPY 1,500,000,000) for the program to reconstruct and rehabilitate the schools in flood and landslide affected areas as stated in the recovery and reconstruction strategy of the Ministry of Education with the BBB principles.
The BBB principles which ensure (1) Schools that are resilient to future disasters in line with appropriate standards (such as resilient buildings with safe and adequately sized staircases, necessary elevation for schools in delta areas, and improved WASH facilities, etc) and (2) Schools that have better learning environment under ongoing educational reforms (such as additional classrooms for KG in primary schools and post-primary schools, teacher’s room, good-quality classroom furniture, houses for headmaster and teacher with security where necessary, etc). The said grant will cover about one hundred and seventy thousand (170,000) students in schools who were affected by the floods and landslides, so that they can study without difficulty as early as possible.
It was expected that the emergency school reconstruction project will rebuild and retrofit schools in the districts, severely affected by the April and May earthquakes by financing the necessary expenses for reconstruction of schools and related facilities.
Likewise, the emergency housing construction project would restore and improve the living condition of the victims of the earthquakes by reconstructing the destroyed and damaged houses with an adequate seismic standard. This was expected to contribute in sustainable socio-economic development of the region with build back better (BBB). Meanwhile, the visiting JICA President Mr. Kitaoka paid a courtesy call on Prime Minister Mr. KP Sharma Oli. In the meeting, JICA President discussed overall Japan-Nepal co-operation strategies.
JAAN relief work
JAAN also operated relief and supply distribution program. It collected some contribution from its members and created a fund. Besides, a major fund was received from Japan-Nepal Society, Tokyo. This fund was collected from the Nepali people residing in and around Tokyo. At the same time a considerable amount of money was received from Nepali community of USA. In such a way near about two million Rupees had been collected.
With this amount, JAAN members including President, Vice-President, General Secretary and Treasurer launched various programs for the distribution of supplies to the earthquake victims. The relief materials managed were tents, mattresses, blankets, clothes, food grains, cooking oil and ready made food stuffs. These materials have been distributed to the earthquake affected homeless people of Bhote Namlang Village Development Committee (VDC) of Sindhupalchok, Saankhu settlement of Kathmandu and Lele, Nallu VDCs of Lalitpur districts. The relief operation was conducted for more than one month.
JAAN has a plan to reconstruct a school building with a Community Hall at Bhote Namlang, which was severely damaged during the earthquake. But JAAN is waiting for a proposal from the VDC whether it is the need of the local people of that area. JAAN intends this reconstruction to be used also to conduct various training programs for community development and income generation support purposes. This type of training may help to increase capability of the purchasing power of local people.
Prime Minister KP Oli and reconstruction of Dharahara Tower
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli appealed on 16 February 2016 to Nepalis to contribute towards rebuilding Dharahara and also announced that he would contribute one month’s salary for this purpose. The prime minister made the announcement during a programme organized by Nepal Tourism Board and Kathmandu Metropolitan City to affirm the commitment at higher political level towards rebuilding of historical sites. PM Oli added that the government is preparing to rebuild Dharahara as a memorial of lives lost during the earthquakes of April and May. Later, the government decided that Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and all ministers, including state and assistant ministers, will donate one month’s salary for the reconstruction of Dharahara.
The government also decided to collect donation from Nepalis so that they would feel ownership in rebuilding of the historical site with a slogan Mero Dharahara : Ma Banauncchu ( My Dharahara will be built : By Myself). PM Oli said we want to rebuild Dharahara the symbol of our pride by collecting funds from Nepali people, as this will give the message of national unity.
The 203-foot Dharahara Tower (Bhimsen Stambha), built in 1934, was collapsed within a minute on 25 April earthquake. There were 213 steps inside and 25 outside steps to climb on the top of Dharahara tower. The tumbled Dharahara took the lives of 52 persons who were climbing on the staircase at that moment.
The original 225 feet Bhimsen Tower was built in 1825 by the first Prime Minister of Nepal, Bhimsen Thapa. It was partially damaged by the massive earthquake of 1934. So it was rebuilt as nine-storey 203 feet that came crashing down on 25 April 2015.
National Reconstruction Authority (NRA)
During the programme of announcement to rebuild Dharahara, the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) launched a campaign entitled ‘I will build my Dharahara by myself’ in a bid to collect donation from individuals, corporate houses, non-resident Nepalis and others. The campaign is a part of the three-month reconstruction mega campaign, which was launched on January 16. Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the NRA disclosed that the bank account for depositing donations will be opened soon. NRA has proposed that the new Dharahara will have a façade similar to the old structure. However, it will be built using modern construction materials, will have a three-storey underground parking and will be over 203-feet high.
Let us hope and pray that there may be no more earthquake in Nepal. But there is no science that could predict earthquake. However, the geologists and seismologists could forecast the occurrence of earthquake within some time frame, especially in the earthquake prone zone of Eurasian fault zone area. For example, they had made a forecast that there may be another great earthquake in Nepal and surrounding areas by 2034, which will be the subsequent of 1934 earthquake. But it was 19 years earlier that happened in 2015.
In recent years, scientists and researchers have manufactured equipment that forecasts earthquake making some sound, nearly one minute before the occurrence of earthquake. Whatever it may be, now the new construction and reconstruction should be of risk reduction type and less destructive, and resilient that may bear the shaking of great earthquakes.
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