Following two damaging earthquakes in Nepal since April 25, and continuing afterstocks, the government has ordered a halt to all new construction activities, stopped issuing building permits and limited to two stories those structures already begun until July 15, when a revised national building code is set to be issued. Media reports indicate it will carry tougher penalities for violations and be better enforced.
The May 18 edicts follow a strong aftershock on May 12 that measured 7.3-magnitude; the one in April measured 7.9. The quakes have destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes, office buildings and other structures in the capital of Kathmandu and surrounding hard-hit regions, and killed from 7,500 to 8,500 people, according to estimates.
The constantly recurring aftershocks have kept local officials and residents on tenterhooks.
Villages in remote areas east of Kathmandu were razed to the ground, sources told ENR. In some places, only 5% of buildings are habitable.
With monsoon rains expected by June about in Nepal, there is concern of further havoc to damaged buildings and higher risk of more severe landslides.
Prime Minister Sushil Koirala said that 500,000 homes had been destroyed and 300,000 had been badly damaged. Another 100,000 government buildings also were destroyed, he announced.
"The quake could have happened anywhere in this region. This is an opportunity for the rest of Asia to turn things around," says Hari Kumar, regional coordinator for South Asia at GeoHazards International, a California-based seismic safety nonprofit advocacy group. "We can't go on building death traps."
Despite new building codes imposed in 2003, U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Magdy Martinez-Soliman told the Associated Press that the problem in Nepal is not legislation, but rather enforcement of the laws. The New York Times speculated in a May 20 report that in the rush to develop Nepal, many builders have ignored building code rules and that enforcement was lax.
Meanwhile, military-led teams are pushing to clean up damaged areas, before heavy rains begin.
Emergency operations centers in districts funded by UKaid, part of the UN Development Program for Comprehensive Disaster Risk Management, have been relying on basic tools to clear blocked roads for ground transportation, and search and rescue teams. “Shovels and ropes were extremely useful in rescuing people trapped under debris,” said UNDP official Kedar Babu Dhungana who works closely with the center.
India's army and air force have been consistently involved since the first tremor in April, in coordination with the Nepal Army despite limitations of weather and mountainous terrain. Using equipment donated by UK-based manufacturer JCB, the Indian Army Engineers Task Force has been clearing collapsed non-residential buildings, destruction that generated more than 700 cu meters of debris.
JCB announced on May 19 that it has provided an additional $250,000 worth of machines to the stricken country on top of its original $1 million donation, including a fleet of backhoe loaders and electrical generators.
The firm is supplying the machines through its dealer, MAW Enterprises Pvt Ltd, in Nepal.
“As the days have gone by, our Nepalese dealer has advised of the need for small and maneuverable machines which can access confined areas and machines which can lift and place heavy loads,” said JCB Chairman Lord Bamford. The firm has made similar donations to assist in relief efforts following other global disasters.
But officials said they were struggling due to lack of high-tech equipment or technology needed to demolish buildings taller than three stories. The country is seeking assistance from India, China, the US Japan and others.
Work has continued in various places, including World Heritage sites of Bakhtapur and Basantpur, since May 9, said an Indian Army spokesman. “The engineers have helped in conducting controlled demolitions of five highly damaged houses apart from constructing four roof top shelters," he said.
There are reports of serious damage to the 111-MW Rasuwagadhi hydropower station located about 67km west of the quake’s epicenter. The condition of two other existing plants is not known, as they have not been inspected.
There are signs that more than a dozen hydroelectric projects in Nepal and in Tibet on the Chinese side of the border have withstood the power jolts of the quake and the aftershocks. But there also are unconfirmed reports about "impacts."
Government agencies in Nepal and neighboring China are expected to reassess the planned railway line from Shigaste in Tibet to the Nepalese border, according to sources. Shigaste was one of the Tibet areas affected, and 242 Buddhist temples in the area were destroyed or severely damaged.
“The earthquake shows the region is in active quake phase and may last for a long period," warned Sun Shihong, a researcher with China Earthquake Network Center.
But there are no signs that China, which has built and is still building a large number of infrastructure projects in and around the affected areas of Tibet, is going to review its plans.