Prepared for the worst in Nepal
Nepal is the world’s 11th most vulnerable country to earthquakes. Kathmandu Valley, home to nearly 10% of the country’s inhabitants, is at special risk owing to its high population density and insufficient investment in facilities, preparedness and training to cope with a major disaster.
In 1934, an earthquake killed more than 30 000 people and destroyed nearly every building in Kathmandu Valley. Nepal’s National Society for Earthquake Technology (NSET) estimates that today an earthquake of the same magnitude (8.1 on the Richter scale) would kill 100 000 people, injure more than 300 000 and destroy over 60% of buildings. The projected impact on primary healthcare facilities – often the first point of access for vulnerable communities – would also be dramatically higher. According to NSET, an earthquake like the one in 1934 can be expected to occur in Nepal, on average, every 75 years, making another “inevitable in the long run and likely in the near future”.
Minimising the aftermath of a major earthquake calls for retrofitting health facilities as well as training health facility staff, first responders and community members in disaster preparedness and response. Recently, positive steps have been taken toward a more coherent, coordinated approach to disaster risk preparedness in Kathmandu. Much of the retrofitting, however, has focused on structural changes and hospitals at the expense of non-structural changes and primary healthcare facilities. Non-structural retrofitting, such as securing beds, medical equipment and flexible pipes to walls and installing plastic coatings on glass, can be implemented in primary healthcare facilities at relatively low cost. Moreover, current efforts do not sufficiently involve and invest in the human resources required for effective disaster preparedness and response.
This project aimed to enhance the capacity of local communities and health facilities in the Bhakatapur and Lalitpur districts of Kathmandu Valley to prepare for and respond to the grave health and safety risks posed by a high-intensity earthquake.
Recognising the vital role of community members and health workers in the first response to a disaster, in this project Save the Children helped communities in Kathmandu Valley strengthen their own infrastructure, skills and knowledge. Intervention strategies included community information sessions, public awareness campaigns on emergency procedures, first responder training, participatory learning (including street dramas) for community health workers, health facility assessments and training in structural and non-structural retrofitting of health facilities.
Together these interventions increased the proportion of the local population with access to health facilities that are well prepared in terms of non-structural resilience and employ skilled staff.