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Nepal tremor prompts call for quake-resistant infrastructure

Nepal tremor prompts call for quake-resistant infrastructure

When a 6.4 magnitude earthquake rattled western Nepal on Friday night, many people were asleep. Bhumilal Garti of the remote Sirpachaur village told DW that his family woke up suddenly with their house shaking, and they managed to escape.

"Our home was damaged in front of my eyes. We managed to save ourselves," he said. However, at least 157 people were not as fortunate, and lost their lives in the earthquake, many of them buried beneath the rubble of their brick, stone and mud-made homes. An estimated 400 people were injured.

Yagya Khatri, a local journalist reporting from quake-affected villages, told DW that only a handful of concrete structures remain intact and habitable in the hardest-hit areas.

Almost 9,000 structures in Jajarkot and the neighboring Rukum West district suffered either complete or partial damage from the quake, according to Nepal's Ministry of Home Affairs.

The earthquake's epicenter was measured near Ramidanda village in Jajarkot district, some 320 kilometers (200 miles) west of the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu. Several aftershocks above 4.0 in magnitude have been recorded since.

Earthquake-prone Nepal is still a developing country, and many structures are not built to withstand strong tremors. In 2023, Nepal registered four earthquakes topping a magnitude of 5.0. The latest, measuring 6.1, hit the central district of Dhading in October.

In April 2015, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in central Nepal's Gorkha district claimed about 9,000 lives, injured over 22,300 people, and destroyed more than half a million homes.

Nepal lacks earthquake resilience

Monika Jha, head of Nepal's National Earthquake Monitoring and Research Center (NEMRC), said Nepal's position where the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates collide causes frequent, powerful earthquakes.

Jha told DW that region between the western part of Nepal and Dehradun in India can one day expect a massive earthquake measuring 8.0 or more.

While the NEMRC has developed a seismic hazard map, identifying zones more prone to major earthquakes, Jha said there is lack of coordinated effort to construct earthquake-resistant homes and infrastructure.

Chandra Bahadur Shrestha, a member of the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA), which was formed to spearhead post-disaster reconstruction following the 2015 earthquake, told DW that Nepal is ill-prepared to mitigate earthquake damage.

Although Friday's earthquake was of medium magnitude, the loss of life and property was disproportionately large. Shrestha said that building construction played a significant role in the loss of life.

"If there were earthquake-resistant buildings, much of the loss of life could have been prevented," he added. "With the exception of a few urban areas, most of our homes and physical infrastructure are not resilient to disasters, including earthquakes."

Following the 2015 earthquake, the NRA formulated guidelines, including identifying quake-prone areas, reinforcing poorly constructed infrastructure (including homes), and relocating settlements in highly quake-prone regions.

Shrestha told DW that the federal government "dozed off" after the 2015 quake, and delegated responsibility to local bodies, which lack resources, technical expertise, and personell.

"We should not delay in initiating a national-level policy intervention to ensure our infrastructure is disaster-resilient," he added. "We may have the resources and technical expertise, but political will is lacking."

Nepal cleans up after latest quake

Nepalese Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal visited the hardest-hit area on Saturday. Upon returning to Kathmandu, he announced rescue works to be led by the Nepali Army, and pledged to prioritize swift relief and rehabilitation efforts.

Nepal's federal and provincial governments have announced financial packages, while various political, private and social organizations, donor agencies have pledged support.

However, survivors are reporting shortages of basic necessities, including food, safe water, and shelter in many remote areas.

"We have already spent two nights under the sky," said Mahesh Chunara, a villager in Jajarkot district. "There is a shortage of even makeshift tents to endure the chilling nights," he told DW.

At least 13 people died in Chyuri village where Chunara lives. Landslides and road damage have encumbered rescue and relief efforts.

Krishna Karki, a disaster relief management expert, told DW that it is critical that aid deliveries are streamlined to reach those in need.

"Donors and relief communities should coordinate with local governments for information and communication, such as identifying needy people, maintaining aid transparency and avoiding aid duplication," she said.

Local governments should "be allowed to distribute their relief materials. Otherwise, it would end up in the government stockpiles and the survivors may not get it on time," she said.

Edited by: Wesley Rahn