Lessons Unlearnt


Four years later, Central Nepal is still being rocked by aftershocks of 2015. That peculiar earthquake shook everything to the east of the epicentre, and inflicted almost no damage at all to its west. The release of tectonic energy appears to have travelled along a rupture zone from Gorkha and ground to a halt somewhere beneath the southern edge of the Kathmandu Valley. The stored tension of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake is only partially spent.

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Shaking up the health sector, Sewa Bhattarai

Quake was a learning experience for Nepal’s schools, Prakriti Kandel

Tall order, Sewa Bhattarai and Prakriti Kandel

For the first two years after the earthquake, memory was still fresh and we were careful about building back better. There was even talk of strictly enforcing the building code. Look at us now. The kinds of structures that are going up in Kathmandu prove that we have all but forgotten what an earthquake can do. There is still the unfinished business of 2015 beneath the Valley, and below western Nepal is the ticking time bomb of tension from the subduction of the Indian plate into the Eurasian landmass, which has not been released for nearly 700 years.

We still don’t seem to fathom how lucky we were that the 2015 earthquake occurred on a Saturday, did not happen at night, and that it was below 8 magnitude. April 25 was a warning to enforce seismic-resistant designs in private homes, but especially public buildings. Schools may not be so lucky next time, and classrooms need to be strengthened. Our hospitals have poor construction, as the destruction of a newly-built district hospital in Chautara in 2015 proved. Pre-positioning supplies, digging equipment and designating open spaces for evacuation needs to happen now. Across Nepal, earthquake drills will be more important than singing the national anthem at assembly.


While thinking and preparing ourselves for future shocks, there is also all the catching up we have to do to reach the most vulnerable survivors of the 2015 earthquake. It is not just about distributing the insufficient amount earmarked for rebuilding homes, but also rehabilitating families, providing skills training and finding jobs near home for them.

The National Disaster Management Act has been passed, but where is the Authority? The NRA now needs to be phased out (it wasn’t much help anyway) to prepare for the Next Big Ones. It is a feeble hope, but let us not get bogged down in turf battles and allow the Home Ministry to mess it up with political appointments and job distribution to party faithful again.

Under the federal structure, we have a new opportunity to decentralise disaster preparedness, planning and management.  Every municipality now has to take responsibility from ward level up, so that there is a search, rescue and relief plan in place. But given that so many mayors and local elected officials are contractors who are awarding construction jobs to themselves, there is not much hope. We wish the incompetence of Kathmandu Municipality in earthquake rehabilitation of monuments was an exception, but it is the rule. The delays in rebuilding Rani Pokhari and Kastamandap are national disasters in themselves. It is hard to figure out who is more culpable — Mayor Shakya or the Department of Archaeology. 

There are lessons to be learnt about how not to organise compensation for rebuilding. While a lot more of the grants have been cleared, there are many families who have found loopholes to build tiny cement sheds just to get their hands on the cash.

As our coverage this past month in the run-up to the fourth anniversary of the quake, and in this issue, indicate: it is now time to also turn our attention to the seismic risk in the rest of the country. For the past four years, we have been in rehab mode, picking up the pieces of the damage in Central Nepal’s 14 districts. It bears repeating that the risk is now to the whole country from the massive slip that is bound to occur sooner or later in Western Nepal. There is no other way to put it: the death and destruction from it will be nationwide and catastrophic. 

Read also: Ain't seen nothing yet, Editorial

10 years ago this week

This Editorial titled ‘Half full’ from issue #447 of 16-23 April 2009 tried to look at the bright side, but could not find much to be cheerful about. Not much has changed in Nepal in 10 years. Excerpt:

‘Wonder if Pushpa Kamal Dahal, sitting in Baluwatar and preparing for his China visit, has any clue about the rising frustrations of the people. The Maoists may have got three of the six seats in the by-elections, but that is not the real barometer. Ask people stuck inside buses for 24 hours because the government can’t clear the week-long blockade of the country’s main national highway by flood victims. Ask city-dwellers who have seen no respite from power and water shortages.

This coalition has spectacularly failed to deliver. There is no law and order, youth wings of ruling parties roam the streets and the police have no orders to intervene.’

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