As I’m sure many, if not all, of the readers of this blog already know, on Sunday (evening Nepal time, morning US time) there was an earthquake in Nepal and Northeastern India. Although much of the damage attributed to this earthquake was centered in Indian Sikkim, buildings shook in KTM, toppling over a wall at the British embassy—a wall I used to walk by everyday on my way to Nepali language class–killing three.
Surveillance footage from a Lazimpat grocery store not far from British Embassy
Many Nepalis in diaspora probably heard about the earthquake in the same way that P did, through instant updates on Facebook and Twitter. It took an hour or so for news broadcasters to catch up and start posting pictures and reports. By mid-morning P saw a Facebook status from a friend back in KTM that said, “I hope I’m alive tomorrow morning” meaning people were still afraid about aftershocks, and building integrity.
I wrote about this in January 2010 shortly after the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Drawing many comparisons between the tiny developing island nation and the small developing mountain nation, I wrote:
As with Haiti, many of the buildings in Kathmandu are made of concrete and cinder block, with very little “earthquake proof” reinforcement. Additionally, the population of the Kathmandu valley has literally exploded in the past decade due, in part, to villagers flocking to the city in the hopes of escaping the Maoists/army violence in the countryside. Since the KTM valley is pretty well defined topographically, the city doesn’t have a lot of room to expand outward. Thus people are claiming more space for themselves and their families by building upwards—now you sometimes find very skinny tall houses to save on space. A quake of significant magnitude has the potential to absolutely devastate the densely populated city.
Also similarly to Haiti, political turmoil, lack of current infrastructure, a small national airport with one landing strip, and few roads leading to current medical facilities could further complicate rescue efforts. At least Haiti, as an island, allowed medical ships from the US to medi-vac severely injured patience to overcrowded floating navy hospitals. Landlocked Nepal would have to fly victims to India or Pakistan, if anywhere at all.
A quick google search reveals all sorts of articles about the potential future dilemma in KTM:
In a 2007 MSN/Forbes article called “The world’s most earthquake vulnerable cities” a nonprofit research group called GeoHazards International ranked Kathmandu Nepal the most vulnerable, followed by Istanbul (Turkey), Manila (Philippines), and Islamabad (Pakistan).
Similarly a February 2010 New York Times article by Andrew Revkin entitled “Disaster awaits cities in earthquake zones” noted,
Without vastly expanded efforts to change construction practices and educate people, from mayors to masons, on simple ways to bolster structures, [Roger Bilham, a seismologist at the University of Colorado] said, Haiti’s tragedy is almost certain to be surpassed sometime this century when a major quake hits Karachi, Pakistan; Katmandu, Nepal; Lima, Peru; or one of a long list of big poor cities facing inevitable major earthquakes.
“After Haiti, Nepal braces for big quake” commented on the lack of regulations in building codes in KTM,
…Amrit Man Tuladhar, head of the Nepal government’s earthquake preparedness programme, admits [building] regulations are often ignored, and says the older buildings in Kathmandu are a cause for concern.
“We believe more than 80 percent of old buildings could collapse,” he said.
“Many of the buildings in the Kathmandu Valley are very old. If a quake struck at night, people would not be able to escape their houses.”
Another reason P’s friend’s facebook status sounded so ominous.
Earthquakes put people in the Himalayan region on edge. I hope that mother nature has gotten all of her shaking out of her system for the time being.