Token relief measures take the focus away from long-term disaster management planning, necessary in a country going through rapid infrastructure development. Disasters may be natural, but much of its fatal impact is manmade.
For example, forests reduce the speed and impact of violent storms, boulder mining on rivers increases the chances of destructive floods, poor construction methods make houses prone to collapse, and population density increases the numbers of people at risk. For example, Province 2 with 7% of Nepal’s land has 20% of its population.
“The link between land use policy and disaster management is not always obvious, but it needs to be integrated right from the planning phase,” says Santosh Gyawali, a USAID expert on disaster management. “For example, building roads has an effect downstream, it makes floods worse. We need long term vision and regulation of land use for a comprehensive disaster management plan.”
The experiences of other South Asian countries have shown that disasters may not be avoidable, but their impact can be reduced with planning and preparedness. With a history of violent typhoons, Bangladesh and the Indian state of Odisha have invested in shelters, reducing the death toll from cyclones by more than 90%.
Four years after the earthquake, Nepal appears not to have learnt any lessons. Houses that ignore zoning and seismic guidelines have started coming up in Kathmandu and most urban areas. NEOC has identified only 83 remaining open spaces in Kathmandu safe for evacuation in a future earthquake.
Four years on, experts say the focus for earthquake preparedness should now shift nationwide and not just be limited to the 14 districts around Kathmandu affected in 2015. Public buildings need to be retrofitted, homes must require seismic resistant designs, there has to pre-positioned digging equipment and shelter material in open spaces, and there has to be local response strategies.
“Some in the earthquake-hit areas in 2015 are building seismic-resistant structures, but the same cannot be said of the rest of Nepal,” says Jhappar Singh Biswokarma of the National Reconstruction Authority. “There has been no study to determine how seriously the rest of Nepal will be affected by another earthquake, but the risk factor is very high. The whole country has to be better prepared.”
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