Kathmandu Valley Earthquake Risk Management
In the 20th century alone, over 11,000 people lost their lives due to earthquakes in Nepal. The 1934 Bihar-Nepal Earthquake produced strong shaking in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal’s political, economic and cultural capital, destroying 20 percent and damaging 40 percent of the Valley’s building stock. In Kathmandu itself, one quarter of all homes were destroyed along with several historic sites. Three earthquakes of similar size occurred in the Kathmandu Valley in the 19th Century: in 1810, 1833, and 1866. The seismic record of the region, extending back to 1255, suggests that earthquakes of this size occur approximately every 75 years, indicating that a devastating earthquake is inevitable in the long term.
With an annual population growth rate of 6.5% and one of the highest urban densities in the world, the 1.5 million people living in the Kathmandu Valley were clearly facing a serious and growing earthquake risk. It was also clear that the next large earthquake to strike near the Valley would cause significantly greater loss of life, structural damage, and economic hardship than past earthquakes had inflicted.
The government did not control the Valley’s rapid development; in the absence of any building code, nearly all construction took place without consideration of seismic force concerns. The technical information about earthquake risk in the Kathmandu Valley was incomplete and dispersed among several governmental agencies. That technical information had not been applied to the infrastructure of the modern day Kathmandu Valley and had not been presented in a form comprehensible to the public and government officials.
The Kathmandu Valley Earthquake Risk Management Project aimed to improve this situation and to start a process of managing earthquake risk in the Valley.
The Kathmandu Valley project had four main objectives:
- to evaluate Kathmandu Valley’s earthquake risk and to prescribe an action plan for managing the risk;
- to reduce earthquake vulnerability in public schools;
- to raise awareness about the Kathmandu Valley’s earthquake risk among the public, government officials, and international organizations; and
- to build local institutions that could continue the work launched by this project.
GHI convened more than 80 government and non-government institutions to develop an Action Plan, which was released and endorsed by the Prime Minister of Nepal on Earthquake Safety Day in January 1999. To institutionalize earthquake risk management, GHI strengthened the local, non-governmental organization The National Society for Earthquake Technology – Nepal (NSET) and advocated establishing local government earthquake and other disaster risk management institutions.
- Institution Building – Local organization NSET was strengthened and remains an effective regional leader of earthquake risk assessment and management activities.
- Disaster Management – The Kathmandu Metropolis created a Disaster Management Unit as part of the city government. Other municipalities in the Valley have also considered establishing Disaster Management Units and are working with NSET. NSET has also been active in educating ward-level officials, and two wards have created Disaster Management Committees comprised of neighborhood residents and community-based organizations.
- Action Plan – Ten specific initiatives were defined and implemented to improve national disaster management, raise awareness, implement and enforce building codes, and strengthen schools, including the “School Earthquake Safety Project.”
- School Safety Measures – Vulnerability assessments of public schools quantified the risk faced by the entire built environment and demonstrated how to conduct earthquake risk mitigation projects in Nepal.
- School Retrofits – The Nankhel School was retrofit in 1999. Since then, the Kaavresthal, Nateshowri, and Himalaya Primary schools have been retrofitted, with plans underway for additional retrofits.
- Mason Knowledge Transfer – Masons trained in Nepal for the school retrofit project then went on to train masons in Gujarat, India.
- In 2001 Dr. Brian Tucker was awarded the Gorakha Dakshin Bahu Award for service to the people of Nepal by the King of Nepal.