25 January 2017
Following previous visits to Nepal last year, supporting Community Action Nepal (CAN) with their reconstruction programme, Cara Buchan, Senior Architect joined Glyn Utting, Principal Project Manager, on a recent trip. She was tasked with reviewing all building designs to date and make practical recommendations to future designs based on her experience and knowledge.
Here, Cara tell us more about her visit including meeting those rural communities as they continue to plan and rebuild their homes, schools and health posts, following the 2015 earthquakes.
“Before heading out on the progress visit, I was most eager to see the quality of rebuild projects first hand and how widely seismic-resilient building techniques were actually being used. What was surprising about the level of damage was how the destruction in Kathmandu was not as great as I had expected, yet in rural areas the amount of abandoned, damaged and collapsed buildings was overwhelming.
It was during our second day trekking between villages in the foothills, we were told our first heart-breaking story. Our guide, Pasang, pointed out the remains of what once was a family home, a pile of stone rubble which now bore no resemblance to a building. A father and daughter were inside the house when it collapsed during the earthquake, and as we turned around we saw two large white rectangular prayer flags that marked their graves. Emotional as it was, I was grateful to have heard this story so early in the trip; it was a stark reminder of the consequences of poor construction in such vulnerable regions, and helped us prioritise any issues with projects later in the trip.
Throughout the two week visit, we visited the regions of Helambu, North Gorkha, Langtang and Barabise and it was humbling to be welcomed with such warmth and genuine gratitude in each village. Inspecting the health posts and school projects on behalf of CAN, we drew on our knowledge and experience of projects in seismically active regions to provide feedback to the local engineers, overseers and builders on the standard of construction. Building these relationships with local experts was a great opportunity to share their knowledge on vernacular architecture and local construction skills, whilst sharing my knowledge on seismic-resilience to boost their knowledge in this area.
There are several projects in progress at various stages of completion, and they all have their own unique challenges, many of which we don’t encounter on typical UK projects. Despite the various challenges and constraints of building in such remote areas, we were pleased to see that the standard of each project is improving, which is a testament to the hard work of the CAN team in Nepal.
Worryingly, as we travelled between villages, we passed many buildings being repaired or rebuilt without seismic-resilient techniques. Despite the intentions of NGOs and international organisations, the ‘build back better’ ethos of the Nepali government is not being as widely implemented as hoped and highlighted the importance of the knowledge, skills and capacity building approach taken by CAN and WYG.
Throughout the trip it was clear that by engaging with the local communities on CAN projects, and by providing the understanding of why to ‘build back better’, there is a stronger chance of the principles being utilised as people rebuild their homes.
Our focus over the next few months is the construction of three schools - Birendra, Himalayan and Bahrabise and hostels for the school at Melamchi Ghyang. The Nepalise Department for Education have mandated that schools must be constructed in reinforced concrete frame, which presents new challenges in relation to quality control in remote regions.”
Phil Powell, CAN Trustee commented: “Cara played a key role supporting the CAN team on our two week trip to Nepal when we visited 25 construction projects and attended a number high level meetings with DfID, Oxfam and CAFOD.
We benefitted enormously from Cara's architectural skills and seismological knowledge, which really helped us to undertake thorough assessments of how projects were progressing and how things could be improved.
Cara worked tirelessly and greatly contributed to the success of our trip with her laser sharp analysis, timely advice and support to our Engineers and Overseers and her input at strategic meetings. This was Cara's first time in Nepal and she fully immersed herself in the experience and engaged fully and warmly with our Nepalese partners in remote mountain communities in North Gorkha, Sindulpolchok and Langtang. CAN is very grateful to Cara and the WYG team for their invaluable and ongoing support."
Find out more about the project by downloading the full CAN Progress Report, December 2016.