Capacity development for ‘Building Back Better’:

Collapsed buildings in Kathmandu following the earthquake on 25 April. Photograph: UPI/Landov/Barcroft Media (Guardian)

Collapsed buildings in Kathmandu following the earthquake on 25 April. Photograph: UPI/Landov/Barcroft Media (Guardian)

Tamara Kahn

Earthquakes don’t kill people – buildings do. The reconstruction phase should be used to not only restore communities to their pre-disaster states, but to take the opportunity to create safer, more sustainable and resilient communities: “building back better”. This brief will emphasize the importance of building up on local knowledge to build, supervise and identify earthquake proof construction. The capacity building will target both practitioners (architects, builders, contractors) and the general public to enable people to supervise the reconstruction in a better, more resilient manner.


People take shelter at the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu, Nepal, one of the buildings to withstand the earthquake. Photograph: Bernat Armangue/AP (Guardian

  1. Sensibilisation: There is often a wide gap between real and perceived risks. It is necessary to create awareness and a demand for safer buildings and skills. Quality should not be compromised for speed.
  2. Building practitioners must be educated about the importance of improved building regulations. Build on professional knowledge whilst encouraging indigenous knowledge for earthquake proof construction. Build technical capacity to ensure an enforced building code. Teach practitioners basic earthquake engineering.
  3. The community and stakeholders must be educated in disaster awareness, risk reduction and the importance of resilient building practices. The use of public awareness materials (radio, television, print media, brochures, pamphlets) and working closely with schools and local agencies (workshops etc) is vital to increase capacity.
  4. Establish a network of building practitioners who would be interested in taking part in reconstruction activities.
  5. Appropriate materials and quality control mechanisms of construction process are necessary. Encourage accessible methods of testing salvaged or new materials for structural stability and develop new appropriate construction mechanisms.
  6. Indigenous architecture has proved to be resilient to disasters and research should be directed towards structural assessments of such historical structures to reveal methods for enhancing durability.


Around three-quarters of all deaths in earthquakes are due to building collapse. Low-cost and informal buildings are most likely to fail, meaning that earthquakes disproportionately affect the poorest in the community.

In terms of building capacity and construction, there is limited planning control and land management. Out of 90% of individually constructed buildings only 5% of them have professional engineering design and supervision.

Nepal’s reconstruction is crucial because it is an opportunity to take the global community’s combined knowledge and do better. It is more important than ever to deliver a more resilient, stronger built environment that will not produce a repeat tragedy of this scale again. It is important for local practitioners and urban dwellers to be actively involved in reconstruction, this brief will outline some policy recommendations for developing capacity in order to build back better.

Disasters in the Himalayas are set to get worse due to the impacts of climate change – Rapid population growth, concentration of economic potentials and livelihood opportunities in urban areas, environmental degradation, and increasing pollution of air and water bodies are other causative factors of ever increasing vulnerability of Nepal to natural hazards.

The Himalayan region is one of the most disaster prone and ecologically vulnerable ecosystems in the world. Nepal is a hotspot for geophysical and climatic hazards

‘Building Back Better’

It is necessary for Governments and organisations to provide locals with knowledge, skills, capital or materials to improve community capacity. Recovery is more robust and sustainable when communities are able to draw on their own capabilities, social and economic resources. This provides an opportunity for local markets and businesses to grow, and for people to gain skills and confidence. Support to develop skills and capacities (through training) and to access physical resources, encourages people to actively contribute to the reconstruction process.

Furthermore, people who have suffered in disasters are not helpless victims waiting to be rescued. They have skills and capacities; and should be allowed to determine how they want to rebuild their lives and livelihoods. People themselves should be the drivers of reconstruction and recovery. The bottom-up approach means that local actors participate in decision-making about the strategy and in the selection of the priorities to be pursued in their local area. For instance, Owner Driven approach on rural reconstruction of Earthquake affected areas of Pakistan after 8 October, 2005 earthquake shows that bottom up approach is more effective for making culture of safety where all the building construction stakeholders are aware and construction technicians were trained.

Although there exists a set of building safety standards due to the precedent experiences of the country such as the National Society for Earthquake Technology, fulfillment of building codes is still needed to ensure that buildings are built back using safe and durable technology. In Chile effective implementation of building regulations has been successfully demonstrated. The 2010 earthquake was the sixth largest on record, but fatalities remained under 1,000. This demonstrates that by empowering the people, Nepal could reduce the impact of future hazards by building back better.


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