In the immediate aftermath of the devastating April 25th earthquake, the Nepal Engineers Association and hundreds of student volunteers from local engineering schools conducted damage assessments on literally thousands of buildings. As a result of these “rapid visual assessments,” each building was issued a colored placard in green (safe with little to no damage), yellow (significant damage) or red (unsafe for occupation).
Sadly, during EF Nepal’s own assessment visits to 56 campuses in the heavily damaged districts of Nuwakot, Dhading and Sindhupalchok, the team witnessed several schools still using buildings with clearly displayed red placards. In addition, some structures with green placards were clearly beyond “a little” damaged.
The unfortunate truth is that damaged schools have very few options. While local and international non-governmental organizations have been providing extensive relief assistance to the financially strapped Nepalese government, a lot of this aid is in the form of emergency supplies or temporary structures such as temporary learning centers (TLCs) rather than permanent buildings. And while there is no argument that TLCs are generally an improvement over learning beneath blazing sun, pouring rain or bitter cold, it is understandable that students and teachers want to return to a permanent school as soon as possible. However, in the absence of choice, some desperate schools have opted to forgo a long and potentially fruitless wait for donation funds, and repaired damaged buildings themselves by using local craftsmen with no training in earthquake technology.
Here is where EF hopes to make significant impact. Given the challenges of limited building technology and poor site conditions, EF committed to providing a safe school environment by hiring a Japanese consultancy with extensive experience in earthquake-resistant construction technology. In December 2015, consultants from the Yoshizawa Structural Design firm arrived in Kathmandu and immediately began their on-site research and preliminary design development. The Japanese team visited potential schools, material markets and quarries, and active construction sites in order to determine the quality of construction materials (generally acceptable), the depth of construction knowledge (shallow), and the resilience of currently available school designs (measured at earthquake resistance of magnitude 3-4).
Yoshizawa will continue to develop the school design once a school is selected, and will eventually train local craftsmen in proper construction techniques and help monitor the build site. In addition, EF Nepal plans to align Yoshizawa with the Nepalese government to improve the national standard school design to an earthquake resistance of magnitude 7+. This new standard design, as well as all information EF Nepal collects for the project, will be openly shared with any NGO/charity organization involved in Nepal’s rebuild, as part of the global collaboration effort.