Disaster Law and Displacement in Nepal, Ctd

Fresh off its 7.8 magnitude earthquake on April 25, a 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal today about 80km to the east of the capital, Kathmandu.  The aftershock further exacerbates the displacement of populations who have been without meaningful shelter for weeks.

As detailed after the April 25 quake, building codes and construction standards have an enormous impact on the final death tolls.  In this case, it appears that many children were spared from the quake because the Nepalese government had wisely chosen to close what schools and colleges remained upright until May 14 in order to inspect their integrity.  While sustained school closures present short-term disruptions to youth development and education, the regulation in this case may have been worth the short-term costs.  

As if the April 25 quake wasn't enough, this is another reminder to rapidly developing countries in the region to get their building codes, construction standards, and disaster management plans in order.  

Disaster Law and Displacement in Nepal, Ctd

Photo: Domenico

Photo: Domenico

Last week I wrote the following about Nepal's building codes contributing to seismic vulnerability:

Nepal ranks near the bottom in a list of countries on preparedness for natural disasters.  Despite being located on a known fault-line, Kathmandu, like Port au Prince, did not develop stringent building codes, zoning laws, or urbanization management plans to mitigate risk.  What plans do exist have not been enforced. 

And weak building code standards and enforcement did contribute to widespread infrastructural and human losses.  But engineers are starting to find evidence - from buildings that did not collapse - that construction standards may be improving in Nepal.  Simple details like bending steel rods around vertical bands has helped some buildings stay standing, which, while not salvaging the building itself, saved human lives:

These are precisely the construction details that were absent in the wreckage of many of the schools that collapsed on students and teachers in China’s Sichuan Province in 2008.

Miyamoto said Nepal’s two-decade effort to improve building codes is important, but that adoption of new norms and habits by contractors there and in many other developing countries is likely more a function of spreading understanding of why such simple steps make a difference.*

“They have to know why that bend matters,” he said. “A few extra seconds of effort can keep a building from falling on their kids.”

He and others have credited the sustained work of Nepal’s National Society for Earthquake Technology and nonprofit groups such as GeoHazards International in helping spread such insights.

But they are racing the clock in many ways. The same is true around the world.

The need for more stringent building code regulation appears to be getting more attention in nearby India as well, where low, mid, and high-rise buildings share the same minimum building code  standards (h/t Andrew Revkin).