NZ engineer speaks to construction practices in Nepal

Nepal is reeling from a 7.8 magnitude earthquake, which has caused widespread devastation – including a death toll of close to 4,000 and rising. The small nation’s isolation complicates relief efforts, with many remote areas still unable to be reached days after the shake hit. Consulting engineer Dr Richard Sharpe has written a piece featured in today’s Dominion Post, outlining his experiences assisting in implementing better construction practices in Nepal. He speaks of the efforts of amazing Nepalis who have ‘doggedly taken the message to their government and the Nepal public about the need for disaster mitigation’.

In 1992, Beca’s Wellington office won a UN Development Programme project to draft the national building code for the Government of Nepal. A law was drafted to implement the resulting code, and a training plan for masons and technicians developed. The code is yet to be enforced widely. Reports are already emerging of buildings that collapsed due to a lack of reinforcing, pillars, and the use of substandard concrete.

Sharpe outlines that the best thing Beca did late in its project was to moot the establishment of what became the National Society for Earthquake Technology – Nepal (NSET-Nepal), founded by Amod Dixit. This NGO has undertaken strengthening of schools in the Kathmandu Valley, and trained masons in the techniques that can make masonry buildings more resilient to earthquakes. In the last months, smaller areas were convinced by NSET-Nepal to implement tougher building consent processes.  Sharpe points to the ‘reported reasonable performance’ of modern buildings in the earthquake as demonstrating the significance of these steps.

Sharpe emphasises that in the recovery phase there are opportunities for NZ to now contribute its building expertise. Today’s editorial in the Otago Daily Times imitates this sentiment, noting ‘New Zealand can play a much wider role than just sending money and supplies…and help the country rebuild from the bottom up.’

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