Man who wrote Nepal’s scarcely-followed building code tells a story

  • Rahul Singh, Hindustan Times, Kathmandu
  • Updated: May 14, 2015 07:45 IST

The man who wrote Nepal’s scarcely-followed building code 22 years ago to contain damage caused by earthquakes, said structures could be built again but survivors gripped by trauma were a bigger concern.

Richard Sharpe, a leading earthquake engineer from New Zealand, indicated the earthquakes that jolted Nepal could have been far less destructive had building standards been adhered to.

He had spent 18 months in Nepal during 1992-93 to draft the code.

Seismically unsafe buildings coupled with haphazard urbanisation right under the government’s nose were factors that led to the high death toll in Nepal where a major earthquake was long expected. “There’s a problem in this part of the world (India and Nepal)... I am not sure building codes are implemented,” he told HT.

Sharpe is among the four earthquake experts from New Zealand carrying out damage assessment in Kathmandu at the Nepalese government’s request.

In 1992, he watched Bridget Fonda and Keanu Reeves shoot for Little Buddha in Bhaktapur — a city steeped in history and dotted with centuries-old architectural sights. But when Sharpe revisited Nepal’s cultural capital this week, it looked like a bombed-out war zone, its iconic Durbar Square a pale shadow of a Unesco world heritage site.

“I have an emotional stake in this country. In Bhaktapur, I felt a lot of sadness when I saw people in pain,” he said.

The story of the buildings that came up after 1994 when Nepal’s building code was ready could have been different, Sharpe said.

Improving earthquake resilience of buildings could have reduced risks. However, the relationship between seismic safety and building cost can be tricky. Sometimes that tradeoff is accepted to bring costs down, experts pointed out.

Leading Nepalese industrialist Siddhartha Rana said Nepal should seize the opportunity for “planned reconstruction” in the coming years and build structures better than before.

Indian experts said Nepal’s reconstruction could take at least five years and the country’s worst disaster in 80 years may have set it back by up to $10 billion.

Meanwhile, the May 12 quake appears to have forced some international medical teams to redraw their plans to leave Nepal. It is learnt army doctors from Pakistan and Japan are likely to extend their stay here.

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