Lessons from Nepal

K. Sukumaran writes on the lessons we must learn from earthquakes and other natural calamities

May 15, 2015 07:04 pm | Updated 07:16 pm IST

USAID rescue workers inspect a Nepalese earthquake site.

USAID rescue workers inspect a Nepalese earthquake site.

Calamities cannot be prevented. Precautions can, however, reduce their impact. Seismologists say some of the reasons for tremors, earthquakes and floods are unplanned growth of construction especially in higher and hilly terrains, denudation of forests, and habitation in river beds, apart from climate changes.

It is also said that pressures of overpopulation, both permanent and floating, resulting in massive development can contribute to unsettlement of the natural equilibrium.

An imbalance in placement of ‘plates’ that support the earth may also lead to stress. Construction of dams on free flowing rivers without sufficient precautions can also unsettle the ecosystem. Here are some lessons that can be drawn from the recent Himalayan tragedy.


Like climatic predictions, seismic upheavals can also be predicted with some kind of certainty. It is now made public that a team of seismologists from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, had predicted natural disasters in Nepal and other Himalayan mountain areas. Diversion of water flow at high altitude can push the eco balance around and create natural fury.

Property development

In the name of growing demand for housing, most constructions go vertical these days. ‘Tall is beautiful’ seems to gain currency among engineers, architects and builders these days. Many administrators too want taller towers in major cities. High-rises are also seen as symbols of prosperity.

The sanctioning authorities too give approval for high-rise constructions, mainly with fire protection and preventive conditions which are the top concerns these days. However, the total development impact in the neighbourhood are often overlooked. There is a strong need for men and equipment for quick and instant action, back-up of military and paramilitary personnel, both on ground and in air, medical facilities and ability to move the injured for treatment and the supply of potable water, food and medicines.

Disaster management

The most important requirement is of trained personnel for caring for the injured, and relief and rehabilitation of the affected. Response time to disasters like earthquakes is very critical. This will depend on the readiness with which the disaster management personnel are kept ready in a 24x7 state, supported by transport and communication.

The Indian Government’s fast response to the Nepal quake can be an ideal case study. Action on time can substantially reduce loss of human life and property. Some notable features of ‘Operation Maitri’ have been:

· Men and materials on tap

· Friendly neighbourhood

· Fast action by the NDRF (National Disaster Relief Force) personnel

· Back-up by the army and air force personnel

· Communication facilities

· Orderly action

A plan which should be a combination of type of construction in line with the seismic classifications like susceptibility to earthquakes or otherwise, engineering efficiency, top-class maintenance and insurance to fall back on in case of loss or damage to property and above all, a visionary approach to emergencies are major precautions to be taken.

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