Man, not nature, behind Nepal disaster

Poor infrastructure, lack of compliance with building codes and high levels of poverty were the reason the earthquake had such a devastating effect, argues Jo Scheuer from the United Nations Development Program.

Experts in disaster risk reduction and recovery were not surprised that last month’s earthquake in Nepal had such a devastating effect. Many of the country’s towns and cities are located on or near fault zones, yet they suffer from decades of substandard building practices. In addition, the heavy influx of the rural population to cities in recent years resulted in a construction boom that oftentimes did not comply with building codes in a bid to save money and time.

Jo Scheurer, director of climate change and disaster reduction at UNDP, calls these choices “risk-blind development” and regards them as the real culprit behind the earthquake’s devastating effect. “While brought on by a geological incident, the disaster in Nepal is very much the result of human action and development choices,” he writes in the Nikkei Asian Review.

Given that it is not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ the next major earthquake will strike, Scheurer says it is critical the country invest in and prioritise earthquake-proof infrastructure. This includes governance measures such as tightening regulations and ensuring compliance to building codes, but also investing in what he calls “risk-informed development practices”, especially during the rehabilitation and reconstruction phase. By tying disaster risk reduction to sustainable development, Nepal could work towards a safer, more resilient future.


Photo credit: SIM Central and South East Asia, flickr/Creative Commons

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