Hospitals and schools flattened in the 2015 earthquake are being rebuilt, but what about the rest of Nepal vulnerable to future quakes? A recent Ministry of Health (MoH) study showed the government hospital in Nepalganj was structurally so weak that it needs to be demolished, and recommends retrofitting four other hospitals in Western Nepal that do not meet the WHO Health Safety Index.
“The study is a warning. The condition of rural health facilities across Nepal is similar, and we need to quickly retrofit them before the next disaster strikes,” says Chudamani Bhandari of the Health Emergency and Disaster Management Unit at the MoH. “Western Nepal is in greater danger of a big earthquake, so we have decided to focus there.”
The Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2018 stipulates that the main responsibility of managing crises now lies at the local level, but the MoH says it first wants to build capacity at the provincial level.
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However, the first step must be to carry out a baseline safety inspection of medical centres all over the country. The National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) plans a survey of schools and hospitals, but only after it is done with reconstruction.
The National Society for Earthquake Technology (NSET) is also resuming its retrofitting of schools in Western Nepal that it had started before 2015. Says NSET’s Surya Narayan Shrestha: “We need to concentrate on Western Nepal because the vulnerability of public buildings there is high.”
Western Nepal is said to be particularly at risk because it has not had a mega-earthquake for the past 500 years. DFID is supporting NSET with a Safer Schools Project to retrofit classrooms in the region.
Schools are important community hubs and strengthening them can raise public awareness about safer construction in areas that are at high risk. In fact, 2015 itself provided a lesson for schools. Deepak Sharma of the Ministry of Education explains: “The few schools that were retrofitted before 2015 suffered no damage, so we are trying to retrofit schools in all districts for future earthquakes.”
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