Amod Mani Dixit, Geologist and Founder of National Society of Earthquake Technology – NSET (Nepal) is dedicated to the field of disaster risk management (DRM) for more than 30 years. On his brief visit to Delhi to engage NGOs for disaster relief in Nepal, iamin caught up with the earthquake specialist. In a free-wheeling chat with iamin, he talks about building back Nepal after a series of devastating earthquakes that rocked the country. Here he highlights the top priorities for Nepal post the earthquake, the challenges and understanding of the local strengths in Nepal.
Dixit classifies the current priorities of Nepal in two parts:
Talking about physical requirements, Dixit says, “Water, electricity, shelter and early medical responses is the focus area currently. The relief must reach and must reach fast.”
Highlighting the emotional response, he adds, “Despite the fact that Nepalese are aware about earthquakes, its cause, effect, precautions etc, they would still need some one to share their pain with. The connect of friendship, the human touch and being emotionally available for the affected is very important to satisfy the emotional needs of the saviours.”
CHALLENGES TO BUILD BACK NEPAL
Dixit explains that access to remote villages and locations from Kathmandu is a big challenge as the infrastructure has collapsed. The main bridge that connects Lathipur to Kathmandu has developed cracks and is dangerous to use. There are no bridges to make the remote areas accessible.
He further elucidates that the three main roads that connect Kathmandu to the rest of the areas cuts through mountain ranges and due to landslides, recurring aftershocks and rains, access becomes quite risky. People living in remote areas are suffering the most. Everyone’s talking about Kathmandu, but it’s the people in the remote areas who need physical and emotional help.
“While one can go on-foot or on-trails through scattered roads, negotiating the travel is another big challenge as there are no night stays, hotels or food joints on the way,” he shares.
UNDERSTANDING LOCAL STRENGTH IN NEPAL
While many people wish to reach out to Nepal, they lack understanding of the local context. In order to understand their needs, one has to live with the people there, talk to the locals and understand their needs, their in-built resilience and local strengths.
Talking about the local strengths, Dixit elaborates, “Knowledge about earthquakes and resistance from it is deep within the blood and skin of the Nepalese. Level of earthquake awareness is very high and people were prepared for it. We are largely functioning on self-help and mutual-help. From past seven and half centuries, we have had our traditional wisdom that has saved us from 10 devastating earthquakes, larger than the present one. People have reconstructed again. In 1934 earthquake of Bihar-Nepal, Kathmandu was totally devastated. The reconstruction took only two years. Gujarat and Pakistan took five years for construction. But if you ask me will we be able to do that now? The answer is No.”
WAY FORWARD FOR NEPAL
Dixit feels that there is a conscious effort from the government to build Nepal back. He says, “The good thing is that the government has realised that the earthquake is a big problem. They have been working towards it, not to the level that can be called satisfactory but the efforts are there. A lot of money is being spent in response to the earthquake. Whatever will be done now will have a great bearing on reconstruction.”
“The response to reconstruction is one single continuum and you cannot look at the emergency response in isolation. Whatever is to be done must make people and buildings stronger,” he adds.
WARNING, YES. IMPLEMENTATION?
While Nepal was warned about earthquakes from past 10 years, proper disaster risk management systems, earthquake resilient buildings were not put in place. When there was a proper warning, why was Nepal not disaster-ready?
To this, Dixit replies that the knowledge and warning is there, but the question is, are we adapting our knowledge to local situation?
In 1988, there was an earthquake of 6.6 magnitude in Nepal which shook the country. In 1994, the Nepal government made a very good building code but implementation of the building code had to wait another four years, till 1998. The government made it mandatory to comply with the national building code for all urban areas by a regulation. I had resigned from the government after that earthquake because I could see the limitations of the government. That is when NSET was formed and for 22 years, our mission has been to help people and the government. Having knowledge and awareness of the issue is one thing but to do things in the right way on the field is another. The implementation of the building code is a very big task.
Earthquake does not kill people; it is bad buildings that kill people. Putting the laws in buildings is a very difficult task, especially for the developing countries. It is not only engineering and science which will give the solutions. We gave technical solutions more importance while we forgot that it is the social solutions which are most important. There is a need to change the mindset of the governing people.
PASSING ON THE INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE
Dixit emphasises that it’s not the cost factor but the technique to make a strong building that needs to be implemented and the need to pass on the indigenous knowledge.
He says, “For the last 3 years, we have been excellently doing the building code implementation. People think it is expensive to construct the buildings to the requirements of the building code. It is not the question of cost. People are spending more money in building things again. We failed to tell them that our forefathers constructed buildings that withstood large amount of shaking for many years. Comparison with Japan is good, we can reach that level, but because we are struggling with the concept of development. The good news, however, is that we continue trying. The bad thing is we are not passing the knowledge to the next generation. We must internalise the knowledge we possess and use it as a social solution.”
“We don’t want to see the human faces; we only want to see a scientist behind the study. We must put common people in the picture and think like them, look at how their houses build in brick and mortar could be made stronger. In the next 3 years, in Nepal, outside Kathmandu, 60 percent of the buildings are going to comply with the building code,” he adds.
WHAT SHOULD PEOPLE DO NOW?
“The entire Himalaya is going to be shaking for next several months. If you think your building is strong enough, then go inside, but don’t go if you feel that it isn’t. At least for this week, spend the night outside in open parks, fields or houses that are strongly built,” he advises.