Nepal: Constructing quake-proof houses

Nepal has extremely varied climate and diverse terrain. The tectonically active Himalayas make Nepal prone to frequent earthquakes. The country has been facing flood, landslide, earthquake, cloudburst, drought, Glacier Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF), avalanches and epidemics. Among 200 countries, Nepal ranks fourth in vulnerability to climate change.

It is estimated that about 1 per cent of country's GDP is lost to natural disasters. Studies indicate that the loss due to landslides and related problems in the Himalayan region alone constitutes about 30 per cent of the world's total landslide-related damage value.

The recent earthquake has proved the vulnerability of the construction and infrastructure to the impact of this expected disaster. It also reinstates the fact that though there is a strong code, lack of implementation of National Building Code (which has stringent recommendations for earthquake resistance) is one of the key factors in the loss of life and buildings.

The National Population and Housing Census (2011) of Nepal points out that the majority of houses particularly in the rural and peri urban areas are built with materials, such as mud bonded brick foundations, mud bonded brick walls, thatch /GI sheet for roof, and these do not withstand climate risks. The Shelter Policy of Nepal classifies only 10 per cent of shelters in Nepal as good quality permanent structures.

The deteriorating housing condition has been aggravated by the fact that Nepal has been going through political instability for a long time. Policies in the domain of housing are very limited. Allocation of government resources for housing has been in the range of 0.5-2 per cent of the total budget. On the other hand, private sector -both financers and developers have not ventured into disaster and climate resilient housing.

Several households in Nepal have experienced climate risks in some form or other and are willing to invest a part of their savings in construction or upgrade of homes to be made resilient to impacts of climate change, and earthquake. While there is willingness on the supply side to construct and deliver resilient homes, there is huge gap in terms of government policies and priorities. Lack of supporting government policies and priorities, financial mechanisms, capacities and enabling codes /standards/cost effective standardised technologies are the primary challenges that need to be addressed.

Interestingly, there are several NGO and multilateral/bilateral driven initiatives on climate and disaster resilient homes that are replicable and scalable. However, they have remained niche initiatives so far. Habitat for Humanity Nepal, for example, has already built 48,000 low cost houses and they have a target to build 1 million such homes by 2020. These are, however, for mostly those households which have an income less than $2000 per year.

Resilient features Lumanti majorly works in urban areas; in response to floods recently in Sunsari they raised 235 homes. Shelter And Low Cost Technology Development Centre has been developing precast construction members where they save 50 per cent construction cost.

The TERI carried out an analysis to calculate the increment in initial construction cost and its benefits by adding climate resilient features in houses in various regions. As an average 10 per cent increase in initial cost is predicted. It was also concluded that with the use of alternate construction technologies and alternate materials for constructing disaster and climate resilient homes, the low and middle income households shall be able to afford the resilient houses and that they will be able to repay the EMI for home loan from bank within reasonable time frame.

Climate resilience features also include features that help in reducing energy and electricity consumption of homes (e.g passive design features, better insulation in walls and roof, energy efficient appliances etc) and also these homes do not require significant repair/maintenance cost as opposed to conventional homes which are vulnerable to climate hazards.

On carrying out Life Cycle Cost Analysis for 20 years, it was found out that the savings is 3.5-4 times the initial investment in the energy efficient climate resilient low cost homes. Due to savings in electricity bills and maintenance cost since these homes are resilient to climate vulnerabilities, it is observed that the payback period is six to seven years, within which the initial investment is recovered and after which there are only savings.

So, it is feasible to construct such homes not only through grants and subsidies, but also by involving banks and financial institutions in a viable business mode. Some of the key levers that can motivate the sector are appropriate policies for banks to lend to low income segment for construction of low cost climate resilient homes, policies by government to allocate land for low cost climate resilient housing and effective implementation of National Building Code. Capacity building and information sharing remain overarching requirements.