Another reminder

Alone at home with her five-year-old daughter, a mother texted her husband to come home early, if he could.  She was scared.  With the gossip mill churning out stories of another big one coming soon, the second big earthquake in Nepal yesterday afternoon shook us again.

There are no reports of major damages in the country, although we felt the tremors of the quake that happened 350km away.  Yesterday’s was closer to us and rumours are fast spreading that the next mishap could be on a fault closer to home.

Unlike weather, earthquakes cannot be forecast.  Experts are concluding that the two big ones in two weeks in Nepal have not been able to release the strain built for decades.

In other words, we are still vulnerable.  Unfortunately we cannot prevent earthquakes.  All we can do is mitigate the risk to lives and damage to property.  The only positive thing we can take from the recent disasters is that we are shaken and we are taking it seriously.  The cabinet met yesterday to discuss it.  The home minister came on a live interview on national TV to announce what is being planned or will be.

Our team in Nepal returned with vast experience in aiding those stricken by natural disasters.  This is a good experience for them as we prepare to face natural disasters.  Being located in a fragile ecosystem and the young Himalayas, we are almost always vulnerable.

A daylong rain can disrupt our road network.  Mobile network gets clogged and panic level is highest during disasters.  We have experienced that.  It is good to hear that we were taught a lot of lessons.  The recent incidents have convinced that we are not safe and the only way forward is prepare to mitigate consequences.

From experience, we have come to know that it is always government or institutional structures that suffer the most in an event of a natural disaster.  Whether it is an earthquake or a windstorm, it is always schools, basic health units and gups’ offices that suffer most damage, apart from the traditional structures.

Children are most vulnerable and it is not nice to know that school buildings are worst affected.  Private builders trick their way out of building rules to save costs.  They will realise when standards are not met.  But government buildings like school buildings should be the last to suffer.  The Narang BHU totally collapsed during the September 2009 earthquake.

As private contractors build government infrastructures, standards could be compromised for better profit margins.  But this is putting lives at risk.  This is one area to be seriously looked into.

Today, if our concrete buildings in the urban areas are resisting earthquakes, it is because of stringent rules to follow codes and standards.  Beyond the urban jurisdiction, builders are happy that they need not follow building codes.   This is a temporary relief.  It is time we reconsider our building rules.

In the meantime, preparing to face disasters has now become a priority.  We should all work towards that.

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