Post earthquake rebuilding & teaching
By Jan Harris
On 15th March 2016 I will be heading to Kathmandu with a group of 53 lower sixth formers and adults from Sheffield and other parts of the UK.
At 11:56am on Saturday 25th April 2015 a violent 7.8 magnitude earthquake occurred in the Gorkha region of Nepal, followed by countless aftershocks. Just over two weeks later, on 12th May, a major aftershock occurred, this time between Kathmandu and Mount Everest. The loss of life and destruction caused by these earthquakes and inevitable landslides was devastating.
A sudden thrust between the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates resulted in the worst earthquake the country has seen since 1934, and amidst the widespread geological chaos, Kathmandu moved 3 metres to the south in 30 seconds.
Tremendous pressure still exists under the fault line and the predictions are that the country will suffer future major tremors, Kathmandu being highly vulnerable to significant damage. No one can predict when the next one is due.
How is it possible that $4 billion of international aid which poured into the country, still sits in the government’s coffers whilst politicians argue over who is going to be put in charge of the distribution and management of the funds? Finally, at the end of December 2015, Sushil Gyewali was appointed the CEO of the National Reconstruction Authority. It will still take many more months before families living under tarpaulin and tin will see improvements and progress in their local patch. It is a shocking truth which compounds the misery.
It is beyond me to understand the enormous complexities of politics in this part of the world, but in a nutshell it goes something like this. In September 2015 Nepal’s parliament passed a new constitution. Protests mainly by the Madhesi and other poorly represented groups in the Terai region which borders India took the form of blockades at a number of entry points between India and Nepal, the primary one being at the Birganj-Raxaul juncture. Whilst violence and deaths occured at these blockades, Nepal was being starved of life-sustaining supplies, at a time when the effects from the earthquakes were already presenting an unimaginable humanitarian crisis.
The border blockade was not widely covered by the British media although I found some informative articles on the online Guardian site.
Nepal warns of humanitarian crisis as India border blockage continues
Nepal fuel crisis bites as winter brings fear to quake-hit areas – in pictures
Letter to David Cameron
In November 2015 Keith Brook wrote to David Cameron on the occasion of India’s Premier Mr Narendra Modi’s visit to the UK, and asked us to spread the word and contact our local MPs in order to take advantage of every possible opportunity to raise the blockade issues with Mr Modi. MP, Mr Paul Blomfield, responded fully and generously and actively spoke to individuals within government and searched the House of Commons library to find two questions and answers posed to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.
Keith warned us in November 2015 that if the blockade hadn’t lifted before we arrived, we might need to cancel the trip, as there were serious consequences of not getting fuel, food, medicines and many other essentials into the country. It all felt a bit touch and go, but then the news everyone had been waiting for was announced on 8th February 2016.
The University of Sheffield Earthquake Engineering Group teamed up with Birkdale School and offered a free six month course in Basic Training Course on Earthquake Engineering.
The course took place at the newly built Diamond Building in Sheffield, led by the Earthquake Engineering Group: Professor Kypros Pilakoutas, Dr Reyes Garcia, Dr Iman Hajirasouliha and Dr Zuhal Ozdemir, together with invited guests. One of the guest speakers and ex-student, engineer Pramod Neupane, delivered a lecture via Skype from Kathmandu!
The aim of the course was to equip certain peole with basic earthquake engineering knowledge and practical skills on how small buildings can be strengthened. Our activities will include working with local builders, carrying out field work and geological surveys using GPS and photos to feed back to the department’s database, assessing building structures damaged in the earthquakes, assisting with sourcing traditional materials for reconstruction, considering local economy implications and weighing up the costs of reconstruction versus demolition.
Thanks go to Prof Pilakoutas and his team for offering such a brilliant course.
A number of adults have also opted to teach English to Nepali students who willingly come into school during their Easter holidays to be taught by the Birkdale School students and adults. Jenny Loughlin (one of the adult members of the trip) has teamed up with Ewan, a professional photographer based in Sheffield, using art and photography as a focus for teaching. We are hoping to source a number of unwanted digital cameras which we can loan to the Nepali students, and ask them to take them back home to photograph their lives and families. Home for them now is likely to be a tent or a wriggly tin dwelling as most of the pupils’ homes collapsed in the earthquakes.
The abandoned palace we will call home
The International Club now occupies what was a 1920’s Rana Palace in the district of Lalitpur, Kathmandu. It offers sports facilities and a swimming pool, and is a popular party and meeting venue, albeit it rather old fashioned and apparently pretty unmodernised. Video footage of the earthquake showed how the water in the pool sloshed with such force that a third of it whooshed over the sides of the pool onto the surrounding terrace. We will be staying on the third floor, sleeping on mats in multi-occupied rooms. Some of the wiser members of the group who have been in previous years have opted for the sensible hotel option nearby!