This week’s tragedy stems from man-made problems: it’s poorly designed and built buildings in earthquake zones that kill people
It’s not earthquakes that kill, it’s buildings. Disasters in Pakistan in 2005, Haiti in 2010 and at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh in 2013 demonstrated this, and now Nepal shows that the collapse of poorly designed and constructed buildings makes for a massive death toll. While the international community is practised at disaster response, flying in rescue teams, medical supplies and temporary shelter for essential relief in the short term, this only treats the symptoms of an earthquake; you need to treat the underlying problem, which is a vulnerable built environment.
So where buildings are the problem, builders and designers are the solution. We need to help countries to build back better, using the knowledge we have in the developed world to make the built environment safer. If we don’t, the rebuilding will be done in an ad-hoc manner, without the safe design and construction needed, and the community will be locked into a cycle of vulnerability which exposes them to the next earthquake that comes along.
This earthquake won’t be the last to hit Nepal, and many people think it is just a forerunner of a bigger earthquake yet to come. We should take this as a warning. It is a call to arms for the construction industry to flex its moral muscles and use its skills where they really save lives
The building industry is now better equipped than ever to make a lasting change. Article 25, the construction industry charity founded by the industry’s very own leaders, has nearly 10 years’ experience building safely in hostile environments.
In Pakistan Article 25 delivered hundreds of earthquake-resistant homes, bringing our industry’s valuable skills to work for the poorest in the country who would never otherwise engage an architect or engineer.
Article 25 is in Haiti for the long haul, delivering schools and community buildings that will not collapse when the next earthquake comes.
All of this is only possible through the support of the UK’s private sector construction industry, without whom Article 25 would not exist.
When the earthquake hit Nepal, Article 25 was preparing for a programme to improve the earthquake resistance of the country’s schools. Now that plan will need to be enlarged to include reconstruction, in particular to deliver models of earthquake resistant schools in remote areas.
This earthquake won’t be the last to hit Nepal, and many people think it is just a forerunner of a bigger earthquake yet to come. We should take this as a warning. It is a call to arms for the construction industry to flex its moral muscles and use its skills where they really save lives.
We have to stop thinking of natural disasters as natural. They’re not natural at all, they’re human made. Human disasters brought about by human decisions and human actions.
It is humans who have the solution, and primary among them us, the building professionals, who can deliver the solution. We have the technology and skills to make the difference between thousands of deaths and no deaths, but they are not reaching the people who need them most. We can provide safe, durable buildings that stand up to their hostile environment; we can build schools, homes and hospitals that resist earthquakes and typhoons, and protect their users from natural events.
Where buildings are currently the problem, we in the building professions are the solution.
Robin Cross is managing director of Article 25
To donate to the Nepal Reconstruction Appeal visit http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fund/a25nepal or text “NEPA25” followed by your donation, to 70070 (eg NEPA25 £10).