Series of disasters in Nepal: An urgent call

A hazard has numerous risks attached to it and can present itself in many forms such as natural calamity, technological crisis or man-made tragedy. Businesses could face technological disasters such as supply-chain interruption, building collapse, information technology failure, power disruptions etc. Likewise, massive earthquake, flood, landslide etc. could strike us in the form of natural disaster.

Sometimes hazards could be accidental or human-induced such as fire, chemical spill, strike, blockade, riot, and as extreme as terrorism. Nowadays, increasing number of disaster is rapidly becoming a global phenomenon. We do not need to look elsewhere as we revisit a series of recent disasters that took place in our own backyard.

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Escalating number of disasters

Mid April 2014, a deadly avalanche on Mt. Everest killed over a dozen Sherpa guides. After a long dispute between the Nepalese government and the Sherpas, few of the insurance, compensation and safety related demands were met by the government. Foresight of the government and the relevant agencies would have made the aftermath a lot smoother as far as adequate insurance compensations for the deceased trekkers’ families were concerned.

Around the same time, late April 2014, A landslide hit the tunnel of Upper Madi Hydropower Project (25 MW) in Sildjure VDC, Kaski district of Nepal.  Over a dozen workers including a Chinese national were trapped in the under-construction tunnel. Three workers were found dead while rest were saved after a long and treacherous rescue efforts.

A massive landslide in Sindhupalchowk district of Nepal took hundreds of lives in early August, 2014. The Sunkoshi River and the roads were blocked in the region for weeks. Thousands of people in the region were affected and struggled for livelihood. The Sunkoshi Small Hydropower Plant (2.5MW) remained submerged underwater for weeks when the river rose up to 30 meters in height forming a pool of water following the landslide and river-blockage.

The landslide triggered chain of events including loss of lives, properties, infrastructures, supply-chain and businesses in many sectors. Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) estimates that, between June and September, 2014, there were 265 dead, 256 missing and 157 injured due to floods and landslides alone.

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Around mid-October 2014, cyclone Hudhud, hovering in Nepalese sky, claimed dozens of lives and left unforgettable scars in the domestic tourism circuit. Although storms and heavy rain caused by Hudhud was devastating in the Indian states of Orissa and Adhra Pradesh, the scale of damages predicted for Nepal was rather moderate at the time. On the contrary, by the time the cyclone reached the heights of Nepalese mountains, it triggered deadly snow blizzards and avalanches in the Himalayas.

There were hundreds of trekkers (national and foreign) on the mountains while means of communication were mostly disrupted when the storm hit the region. It is apparent that the weather related information were not spread out in accurate and timely manner to the end users. The hydrological system in South Asia is strongly controlled by the Himalayas, which act as barriers for monsoon rains. The Hudhud’s effects could have been expected (if not predicted) by the State and preparedness/response procedure (if it already had one in place) could have been followed to mitigate the loss.

Nearly 82 years after the mega earthquake of BS 1990, Nepalese were heavily shaken by the recent M 7.6 earthquake on Saturday, 25th April, 2015 at 11:56 NST and a major aftershock of M 6.8 on Tuesday, 12th May, 2015 at 12:50 NST. Although the earthquake-epicenters were located in Gorkha and Dolakha districts respectively, the devastations left around 9,000 dead, 23,000 injured and thousands homeless all over the country.

As per the Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA), the private sectors have sustained over three times in damages and losses i.e. NPR 540 billion compared to the damages and losses of NPR 166 billion incurred by the public sectors.

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More recently, the economic blockade imposed by India is no less than a man-made disaster for the Nepalese people and businesses facing dire need of petroleum products and other emergency supplies. Besides day to day inconveniences faced by the people, thousands of private sector industries and businesses were shut down within a week due to inadequate supply of fuel and raw materials from India.

The blockade has interfered with every possible socio-economic dynamics of the country including, transportation, schools, hospitals, offices, business, services, households, festivals, entertainment, etc.

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Business threats

The aforementioned events were devastating in many ways compelling us to ask important questions such as, “Are our politicians liable?”, “Did the government envision such dreadful consequences?”, “Were the businesses prepared?”, “What is their response or plan ‘B’?” Although, under normal circumstances, the probability of similar cataclysmic events repeating in the near future could be predicted relatively low but as we see, the consequences are certainly going to be catastrophic for people, businesses, communities and the country as a whole.

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Flood, landslide and earthquake are some of the high risk natural hazards the nation is facing for a long time. Moreover, the businesses today cannot disregard other potential threats posed by fire, explosion, utility failure, communication breakdown, computer crash, equipment malfunction, operator error, terrorism, criminal activities or a blockade. Are our private businesses ready to face such painful surprises? How prepared are we to sustain and recover our businesses out of these catastrophes?

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Disasters might occur locally but their effects can be sensed throughout the country if not globally. In March, 2011, after the Tohuku-Tsunami in northeastern Japan, 656 Small and Mid-sized Enterprises (SMEs) went bankrupt within a year. Surprisingly, only 12% of the businesses were located in the vicinity where the disaster actually took place. Rest of the businesses were scattered throughout the country and were bankrupted by indirect loss of supply-chain disruption caused by the tsunami.

We need not look further as these scenarios are largely shaping in front of us and as a matter of fact, quite frequently these past couple of years. An avalanche occurs in the remote slopes of Himalayas and we see thinning crowd of domestic and international tourists in our airports for months. A landslide occurs in Sindhupalchok district while people and businesses in the capital go panic due to elevated hours of load shedding and reduced supplies. Likewise, onset of political strikes in the southern belt can close down thousands of business all over the country within a week.

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The rising frequency, ferocity and the extent of damages caused by natural disasters are not only threatening the growth of businesses but also questioning the sustainability of the entire country’s economy as the disaster loss of the nation takes away a big chunk of GDP every year. When businesses are disrupted, it costs money. Lost revenues plus extra expenses means reduced profits. Insurance does not cover all the losses and cannot get back valued customers.

Role of private sector             

It is a prevalent norm around the globe that less probable threats such as natural & technological disasters or the issues pertaining to emergency preparedness for that matter get lower priority than most of other functionalities within a business organization. In a country like Nepal this seems even more evident due to the lack of adequate government policies, visionary business model and culture of disaster preparedness.

As an engine for economic growth, private sector provides employment, standard of living as well as socio-economic growth of a country. Private sector businesses should not ignore the fact that their productivity and services are closely correlated with the safety and well-being of employees, community and the country as a whole. On the contrary, more often than not private sectors long for profit at the cost of disaster preparedness, environmental impact, business resilience and safety of people.

Many times, we have experienced in the past that the Government of Nepal as well as private sectors are awake for a few months during the flooding season. Authorities, communities, business houses and others come forward with titbits which are labeled ’emergency response’ and ‘disaster relief’ efforts in bits and pieces. After another few months the issues settle in oblivion as no sustainable effort is made for the recovery of people, community and businesses in the region.

Although the efforts and contributions are highly commendable and encouraging, the targeted CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) value seems to get diluted and become unsustainable over time from a comprehensive Disaster Risk Management (DRM) perspective.

Anticipating, mitigating and managing disaster risks should be a collective effort because when disasters strike, “Business as usual” is disrupted for all. Avoiding supply-chain disruptions and maintaining smooth operations are in private sectors’ interest while at the same time this could be motivated by the CSR principle of the company, eventually adding value to the business by creating loyal customers.

Private companies could engage with their local or national communities, and undertake a systematic policy of ‘Giving Back’ to customers through DRM programs which would create a feedback loop resulting in long term customer loyalty, improved brand image as well as employee satisfaction.

Way forward

In Nepalese context, policies look good on paper but commendable action is nowhere near to be seen. A consolidating national authority (such as National Disaster Management Authority; NDMA)  and coordinated policies and efforts (comprising communities, private sectors, NGOs etc.) are still missing to prevent and mitigate the potential of loss due to natural, technological or human induced disasters.

Current Government policies are largely focused on reactive approach mostly responding to disasters rather than proactive measures such as prevention and risk mitigation initiatives. Thus, systematically embedding and infusing DRM strategy into the national infrastructure development projects is critical if the country honestly envisions proactive as well as sustainable DRM in the country.

Witnessing series of disasters throughout the country, it is proven that economic and the humanitarian catastrophes are imminent following a disaster such as a massive earthquake, extended flooding, landslide or a blockade.

Over the years, many independent humanitarian and development organizations have been propagating their DRR (Disaster Risk Reduction) efforts through public-private partnerships, awareness presentations, preparedness seminars, emergency response trainings and capability building workshops with a mission to achieve more resilient communities and safer societies around the country.

In today’s world of supply-chain network, business sectors and livelihoods of people are intertwined so intricately that they have to support each other to survive and sustain. The government and the private sectors must work together to make the businesses & communities more resilient to future disasters. Hence the pressing need of public-private partnership for the risk prevention, emergency preparedness, and business continuity planning in the event of recurring disasters, natural or otherwise.

At this juncture, it is high time now that the private businesses of Nepal should rightfully intervene for their own good and come together to join hands with the government as well as non-government agencies to increase their own disaster resilience and business continuity.

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Enough said, let’s make it right!

Earlier Published in Magazine Issue: Vol. : 09 No.- 09 November 6. 2015

Background

In the recorded history of Nepal, the Gorkha Earthquake was one of the devastating quakes hitting the country. Nearly 82 years after the mega earthquake of 1934 CE, Nepal was heavily shaken by the recent M 7.6 earthquake on Saturday, 25th April, 2015 at 11:56 NST and a major aftershock of M 6.8 on Tuesday, 12th May, 2015 at 12:50 NST. With the epicenters located in Gorkha and Dolakha districts respectively, the massive tremors were significantly felt as far as in China, India and Bangladesh.

The catastrophic earthquake and the following major aftershocks left around 9,000 dead, 23,000 injured and thousands homeless all over the country. The earthquakes affected almost one-third of the nation’s population in over 31 districts, out of which 14 were officially identified as the hardest hit.

Go-Bag

As people were traumatized and completely shaken by the first impact of the destructive earthquake on Saturday, 25th April, they were even more scared of the continuous tremors of aftershocks. Frightened to enter their own houses, a huge number of people absorbed in fear were scattered out in the open. In the event of such chaos or probably even worse in the future, you may not have time to search for the critical supplies or go looking for them in shops.

Amidst complete destruction, since the rescue or relief workers may not be on the scene for some time and it could be hours before you get help from outside your community, the need for an emergency kit arises. The kit basically is a collection of essential items you or your household may need to cope after a disaster of such magnitude. Make it simpler and call it a ‘Go Bag’ if you like.

More simplistically put, let’s recall the moments after the first tremor on 25th April 2015; what could be the critical items that we would need to spend a few nights out in the open? Although basic supplies required might be similar for all, there could be many different preferences or needs depending on the individual or the family. If you really think, you will realize that the ‘Go Bag’ is the most customizable emergency kit that we could build on our own. Ultimately, it is not about the shape, size or color of the bag but the contents, we think are critical and must be stored inside it.

Recalling the immediate moments after the major shaking of 25th April, Ms. Sita Shrestha a resident of Thankot, Chandragiri Municipality said “As soon as the shaking stopped, I took my son and daughter out of the house along with our Go-Bag”. She knew that Go-Bag was important but had never imagined that it could be so much useful under those chaotic circumstances. She further added “At the time, many items out of the Go-Bag were very useful such as radio, tarpaulin, blanket, soap, Dettol, medications, torch-light, tooth pastes and even playing cards”. She was happy that playing cards kept the young boys awake in the nights which was good for the safety of the area. “This single Go Bag, I had stored, had been so useful to many of us. I thought what if everyone had their own Go Bag?” asked Sita rhetorically.

Go-Bag: Points to ponder            

First of all, maintaining a ‘Go Bag’ is not a rule rather a moral responsibility towards one’s own safety. Secondly, a disaster such as an earthquake can strike any time. Thirdly, this is about exercising one of the best known practices in the world to get prepared for a disaster that can create havoc in no time. People may argue that the concept is purely western and the luxury of a ‘Go Bag’ does not gel with our culture. You may ask “What good a ‘Go Bag’ alone could bring when my house just turned into rubble?” Of course you cannot save the world with a ‘Go Bag’ but it certainly can keep you safe and thus help save your family or neighbors in those critical hours of extreme need.

We need to understand the fact that ‘life-or-death’ situation is same everywhere irrespective of one’s culture or social background. In the event of turmoil, three seconds without hope, three minutes without air, three hours in extreme temperature, three days without water and three weeks without food are the acute conditions which can threaten anyone’s life no matter which corner of the world one belongs to. Therefore, in the event of a massive disaster such as the recent Gorkha earthquake, ‘Go Bag’ can really be a life-saver and thus tagging ‘Go Bag’ a mere luxury might just be a reflection of our own ignorance towards inevitable disasters that sometimes can kill us.

Drop, Cover & Hold on (DCH)

By now, it is a well-known fact that the shaking of earthquake itself does not injure rather the objects that the earthquake puts into motion are scary and harmful. Anything that can fall, move or break can be an earthquake hazard. If inside a building, upstairs and away from the exit door, “Drop, Cover and Hold On” (DCH). If outside or close to an exit door, find an open space outside and stay away from large falling objects. Imported from the west, although the DCH recipe may not exactly rhyme with our socio-cultural backdrop, the concept clearly holds its ground worldwide with scientifically researched facts.

Looking back into the past, we find that our forefathers responded to earthquakes by immediately dropping down and maintaining the duck-posture by pressing the ground with both hands. As big earthquakes strike after long intervals, the knowledge went into oblivion and was not appreciated enough by its own people.

Mr. Hariman Singh Dangol, who lives nearby the renowned Nuwakot Palace in Nuwakot District, is an elderly local priest at the Bhairavi Temple close to the palace. Recalling the learnings from his old folks, Mr. Dangol actively demonstrated his earthquake-safe behavior that he applied inside the temple when the ground started shaking on that fateful day of the Gorkha Earthquake.

Not very long ago in the US, the space under the doorway was considered safer during an earthquake as adobe buildings would crumble, leaving only the doorways standing. Later, as the living standard of the people and the structural safety of the buildings progressed, the level of risk tolerance diminished greatly. Nowadays, when the building structures are built stronger, people are advised to stay away from the doorways to avoid the risk of jamming their fingers.

Here, it is important to note that over a long period of time, as technology evolves, the risk and the safety behavior also changes or improves along with it. Looking forward in Nepalese context, as pursued by many earthquake prone countries around the globe, we could either use light materials to build our houses or make earthquake resistant structures to withstand earthquake shakings. Both are major preconditions which can set ground for successful DCH practice.

Manoj Tamang, a local resident of Laharepauwa VDC in Rasuwa District, mentioned that his younger brother was studying in the ground floor of a two-story house on the day of the Gorkha Earthquake. “He could run and go out but he chose to go under the bed during the earthquake; he learned this at his school” said Manoj painfully. On that day, Manoj lost his brother to the quake as the house collapsed and crushed the bed.

From Bidur Municipality-3 in Nuwakot District, Ms. Samita Dangol, a local shopkeeper, revealed her brave story and how she was able to rescue her two younger sisters even after the two-story house collapsed miserably. “The two school girls saved their lives taking shelter under the bed on the 2nd floor. This wouldn’t be possible if the bed was fragile or box-type” said Samita convincingly.

DCH: Points to ponder

In the aftermath of the Gorkha Earthquake and the controversy around DCH practice, it is quite relevant to mention two critically salient factors that influence people to do what they do during an earthquake as far as DCH is concerned. Firstly, the process of knowledge dissemination and secondly, the human psychology while implementing the acquired knowledge.

While some were able to save their lives, It is unfortunate that many school children, had to lose their lives to one of the world’s best known practices during an earthquake i.e. DCH. People might be clear in their head about the literal meaning of DCH but do they really know why, where, when or under what other circumstances they should or should not perform it? In another words have people been taught DCH effectively? The action of DCH takes several factors into consideration such as the strength of building, infrastructures & non-structural items, the number of people inside the building or room, number of floors in the building, proximity of exit doors, etc.

Spreading DCH information may be one part of the story while grasping or internalizing the same by the listeners or learners may be completely different story, as far as an effective teaching methodology is discussed. Somewhere it seems, the teachers are missing the opportunity to verify or evaluate the actual learning or understanding of people who are loaded with DCH information. It is quite possible that the spreading of instructions might got limited to mere informing rather than teaching in real sense.

Our state of psyche greatly influences our immediate actions when something happens to us all of a sudden. During a surprise event our subconscious mind is more reactive than our conscious mind such as jamming the car brakes when someone suddenly appears in front of our vehicle. In this regard, earthquake is no exception and can occur when we least expect it.

This is the reason behind encouraging and conducting frequent earthquake drills in offices, organizations, factories and schools. After repeated practice drills, it is expected that earthquake safe behavior gets implanted into people’s subconscious so they would know exactly what to do when the ground really starts shaking next time.

Here, we should keep in mind that child psychology is different from that of adults. Children often think straight forward and take directions literally. Since young children need clear instructions to perform a task adequately, the DCH teaching methodology for this age group might be different than that for adults. Again, as discussed earlier, effective teaching would often include all three components; informing, learning as well as evaluating or verifying.

Final thoughts:

Even if we have the right knowledge, we might need customization time-to-time to suit our existing socio-economic environment. Although DCH methodology has numerous scientific theories and data to back it up internationally, in the coming days, we could sincerely direct our research to investigate the feasibility of DCH or such in our own soil. The outcome would then demonstrate the validity by developing suitable methodology to address the issues pertaining to our knowledge dissemination process, psychology of learning as well as infrastructures that surround us.

In future, we would need to devise better and more improved techniques of disaster preparedness to suit our social, cultural and economic conditionings we inherit. As we evolve in this direction, we might be able to think beyond ‘Go Bag’ or ‘DCH’, inventing more socially inclusive disaster preparedness model which would be able to address the needs of our elderly, children, differently abled and the community as a whole. However, in the meantime, we cannot afford to just sit there and disregard some good ideas just because it originated somewhere in the west and not in the east.

Earlier Published in Magazine Issue: Vol. : 09 No.- 09 November 6. 2015

Cement Industries in Nepal: Aftermath of the Gorkha Earthquake 2015

INTRODUCTION

Cement Manufacturers Association of Nepal (CMAN) claimed that the ban on building construction immediately after the Gorkha Earthquake induced an estimated 85 percent dip in the demand for cement. Since before the quake cement factories were operating only at about 50 percent of their installed capacity, it was estimated that they could fulfill an additional 50 percent demand in the coming months when reconstruction would start in full swing. As per CMAN there were 46 cement industries producing a total of around 4 million MT cement every year before the earthquake. Major 16 cement industries had the annual production capacity of around 3.5 million MT cement nationwide. Please see Table 1.

Table 1. Factory location and production capacity of Cement industries in Nepal (Source: NSET)

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ESTIMATION OF DAMAGE, LOSS, CAPACITY & DEMAND

Except for some minor injuries to employees and their families, there was no significant casualty in cement industries. Only minor damages were recorded in some factories ranging from NPR 50,000 to NPR 15 million in loss. The damages were mostly to the sheds and boundary walls. Overall the total damage loss was estimated to be over NPR 100 million.

Following the Gorkha Earthquake, individual factories incurred 25% to 95% loss of revenue due to reduced demand, production and sales. It was estimated that the industry experienced a total revenue loss of NPR 3 billion in the first 3 months alone. Out of over 10,000 workers employed in cement industries all over the country, around 25% were believed to have lost their jobs after the disaster. Most of them were daily wage workers. Please see Table 2.

Table 2. Information related to employee casualty, damage loss, revenue loss and employment loss

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Since the earthquake damages were not significant, most of the factories were able to recover their production within a couple of weeks. The estimated production downtime due to the earthquake ranged from 2 days to 2 weeks for different factories; majorly due to the employees’ fear of future shaking. In the immediate aftermath of the quake, the production capacity of individual factories came down by only 30% to 35%. Later, due to the government restrictions on construction followed by reduced demand the production significantly dropped by 75%.

Before the earthquake the country had an estimated demand of around 5 million MT cement annually. In the next couple of years the demand was expected to shoot up by around 25% due to reconstruction activities. The market price of OPC Cement ranged from NPR 650 to NPR 750 per bag before the earthquake. But due to the hike in transportation cost and fuel crisis after the border closure, the unit market price increased by 15%. Please see Table 3.

Table 3. Information related to business recovery, production capacity, demand and market prices

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Based on the trend of first 3 months after the earthquake the projected annual production was mere 1 million MT. The nationwide annual demand before the earthquake was around 5 million MT. In the months following the earthquake, due to the government regulations on construction bar, the demand for cement drastically came down to negligible numbers, although total annual projected demand after the earthquake was around 7 million MT. Please see Table 4.

Table 4. A comparison of nationwide production and demand projection for cement industries

table-4

SUMMARY

The national annual demand for cement before the earthquake was around 5 million MT while the annual projected demand increased to 7 million MT after the earthquake. Since the projected annual production of around 1 million MT was based on the first three months’ production trend after the earthquake and the reduced production was mainly due to fuel crisis, power shortage and supply-chain disruptions, the cement industries were certain that the future reconstruction demand could be met as the situations started improving in the country.

It is worth mentioning here that around 2 million MT of additional cement would be required to meet reconstruction demand alone; as projected by Post Disaster Needs Assessment. This demand would spread out in next couple of years or so hence might not overburden the industries’ annual targets in the future. Also, CMAN estimated that due to reconstruction activities there would be only 25% hike in total demand which could be easily sustained by Nepalese cement factories as most of them were operating 50% below their installed capacity even before the earthquake.

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