National Society for Earthquake Technology – Nepal
The Kathmandu Valley project had four main objectives:
- evaluate Kathmandu Valley’s earthquake risk and prescribe an action plan for managing that risk;
- reduce earthquake vulnerability in public schools;
- raise awareness about the Kathmandu Valley’s earthquake risk among the public, government officials, international community resident in the Kathmandu Valley, and international organizations; and
- build local institutions that can sustain the work launched in this project.
Like many urban areas in developing countries, Kathmandu Valley’s risk has increased significantly since the last major earthquake. The Valley has a burgeoning population of almost 1.5 million people, uncontrolled development, and a construction practice that has actually degraded over this century. Nepal is among the poorest and least developed countries in the world with a per capita GDP of US$ 145. Approximately 14% of the GDP (US$ 400 million) is derived from foreign development aid. A weak economy and abundant poverty result in a lack of government funds to support earthquake hazard mitigation programs (including ratification of a building code), inexpensive and poorly constructed dwellings that often fail even in the absence of earthquakes, and a tendency in the general population to ignore the earthquake hazard because of more immediate needs. The Kathmandu Valley has an urban growth rate of 6.5% and one of the highest urban densities in the world.
Currently, Nepal has no official building code and nearly all construction is built without the input of an engineer and without seismic force consideration. The technical information about earthquake risk in the Kathmandu Valley is incomplete and scattered among several governmental agencies. However, a more important contributor to the region’s lack of earthquake preparedness is that the synthesized and available technical information has not been applied to the infrastructure of the modern day Kathmandu Valley and has not been presented in a form comprehensible to the public and government officials.
It is clear that a large earthquake near the Kathmandu Valley today would cause significantly greater human loss, physical damage, and economic crisis than in past earthquakes. The Kathmandu Valley Earthquake Risk Management Project aimed to improve this situation and start a process towards managing the earthquake risk in the Valley.
Nepal and Earthquakes
Nepal is located within the Himalayan mountain range, a product of the continental collision of the Eurasian and Indian plates, initiated about 40-55 million years ago. The collision was followed by subduction of the Indian plate underneath Tibet, which continues today at an estimated rate of about 3 cm per year. The subduction results in tectonic stresses along the Himalayan Frontal Fault System (HFF), the Main Boundary Thrust Fault System (MBT), the Main Central Thrust Fault System (MCT), and the Indus Suture Zone (ISZ), all parallel to the Himalayan arc. Numerous earthquakes have occurred in this region, including four major earthquakes of magnitude greater than M8 within the last 100 years (Seeber et al., 1981; Molnar, 1984; and Chandra, 1992). Table 1 shows the frequency of earthquakes instrumentally recorded since 1911 within 150 km of Nepal’s border.
In this century alone, over 11,000 people have lost their lives due to earthquakes in Nepal. The 1934 AD 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 was destroyed along with several historic sites. This earthquake was not an isolated event. Three earthquakes of similar size occurred in the Kathmandu Valley in the 19th Century: in 1810, 1833, and 1866 AD. The seismic record of the region, which extends back to 1255 AD, suggests that earthquakes of this size occur approximately every 75 years, indicating that a devastating earthquake is inevitable in the long term.
An important part of this project was to institutionalize the earthquake risk management processes started during its course. Continuation of these processes is a key component to reducing the Kathmandu Valley’s earthquake risk. The project’s institutionalization efforts have focused on two areas: first, establishing NSET-Nepal as a neutral seismic safety advocate for the country; second, to incorporate earthquake and other disaster risk management activities into local government.
The project has given NSET-Nepal an opportunity to establish an office, train its staff, gain experience in earthquake risk management, and develop a positive reputation through its actions. It has also provided an opportunity, through the development of the Earthquake Risk Management Action Plan Initiatives and other activities, for NSET-Nepal to plan its long-term strategy in tackling the Kathmandu Valley’s earthquake risk.
Progress has been made in establishing local government earthquake risk management institutions as well. The Kathmandu Metropolis created a Disaster Management Unit as part of the city government, which has been included in project activities and was trained in organizing disaster management activities by a KVERMP consultant. Other municipalities in the Valley have also considered establishing Disaster Management Units and are working with NSET-Nepal to get the process started. NSET-Nepal has also been active in educating ward-level officials (a ward is a subset of a municipality, the legal equivalent of a neighborhood), and at this time two wards have created their own Disaster Management Committees comprised of neighborhood residents and community-based organizations.