Schools with Earthquake-proof Technology Survive Nepali Disaster | Asian Development Bank

Schools with Earthquake-proof Technology Survive Nepali Disaster

Article | 12 May 2015

In Kathmandu Valley, 160 public school buildings survived the 7.8-magnitude earthquake - thanks to an ADB-supported school safety program.

The earthquake on 25 April left a trail of destruction in Kathmandu and surrounding districts - over 8,000 deaths, more than 16,000 injured and thousands of collapsed houses and buildings. But in different corners of the Kathmandu Valley, 160 public school buildings withstood the massive 7.8 magnitude tremor and over 100 aftershocks. Many of these school buildings had one thing in common - each was modified to make it more resilient to disasters as part of the Government of Nepal’s school safety program.

“Retrofitting against the risk of earthquakes saved these schools. Our initial assessment shows there are no significant structural damages to these school buildings,” said Jhapper Singh Vishokaram, senior divisional engineer and disaster focal person at the Nepal Ministry of Education. “In fact, affected communities have taken shelter in most of these schools. So a small step in protecting school buildings against seismic vulnerability goes a long way in ensuring the safety of students, teachers, and staff, and in providing shelter to communities when needed,” he added.

Depending on the type of school building, the retrofitting included adding supporting walls or buttresses, putting concrete jackets on columns, or adding steel frames.

“A small step in protecting school buildings against seismic vulnerability goes a long way in ensuring the safety of students, teachers, and staff, and in providing shelter to communities when needed.”

Jhapper Singh Vishokaram, senior divisional engineer and disaster focal person at the Nepal Ministry of Education

Nepal’s Ministry of Education and ADB have been leading the school safety program, with co-financing from the Government of Australia. The work started with 160 schools, but there are plans to roll it out to 100 others through the School Sector Program.

The school safety program has also boosted awareness and has conducted training so students, teachers, and management committees know what to do in the event of a disaster. The schools prepared evacuation plans and held annual drills. Engineers, masons, and other construction staff learned how to conduct safety assessments and draw up remedial actions.

“Retrofitting against earthquakes was the best decision that I took as headmaster of this school,” said Jeetandra Lal Shrestha, former headmaster at Bhagwati Higher Secondary School in Sankhu, northwest of Kathmandu Valley. “I have checked many times and there is not even a crack in the school building. Around 300 people took shelter in this school after the quake. The earthquake occurred on a Saturday, but I am confident the children of this school would be safe even if it had happened on a school day,” he added. Tika Ram Timisina, headmaster of Tri Padmadaya School in Lalitpur District, south Kathmandu, said “Our school building is intact. We gave shelter to around 500 students, parents and teachers, and the community at large in our school after the quake. Now everyone knows the importance of safe buildings.”

“The school safety program is the first program in Nepal that takes into account school safety as an essential component of student learning. It is critical that mothers and fathers can send their children to school knowing that they will be safe and that children can continue their education even after disasters strike,” said Smita Gyawali, ADB’s education officer in Nepal.

The Government of Australia has provided $525,000 in technical assistance to prepare a master plan to extend the safe school program nationwide. “This master plan can be the basis for redesigning and rebuilding schools to be earthquake-resistant going forward,” added Gyawali.

While the retrofitted schools in the Kathmandu Valley have survived the quake, thousands of schools in the country have been damaged or destroyed, according to the Ministry of Education. “The current practice of school construction will have to be reassessed. Vulnerable school buildings need to be replaced with safe new constructions or rehabilitated/retrofitted to correct deficiencies. The destroyed and damaged ones must be rebuilt on the principle of ‘building back better’, to ensure resilience against future natural disasters,” said Lava Deo Awasthi, Joint Secretary at Nepal’s Ministry of Education.

The School Sector Program is supported by ADB and other development partners - Australia, Denmark, the European Union, Japan, Finland, Norway, UNICEF, United Kingdom, and the World Bank. The program has boosted enrollment up to Grade 8 or age 14, reduced dropout and grade repetition rates, and improved access to education for both girls and disadvantaged groups.