Between Two Big Ones: Earthquakes in the Nepali Consciousness, 1934-2015
Following the great earthquake of 12 January 1934, awareness of the continuing threat was preserved through the frequent occurrence of lesser tremors and the memories of earthquake survivors, by officially-provided advice, starting with the recommendations of John Auden, published in Nepali translation in the Gorkhapatra in July 1934 and included in Brahma Shamsher’s Nepalko Mahabhukampa and continuing with a warning in 1941 to stay outdoors on 25 April, when a similar conjunction of planets to that of 1934 would occur. Although there were few casualties in the Kathmandu Valley, the earthquakes of 1980, 1988 and 2011, which over the whole country killed 125, 721 and 11 people respectively, provided more vivid reminders of the danger. The 1988 event, as well as prompting political recriminations that foreshadowed on a much smaller-scale those of 2015, led to increased official attention and to the establishment of the National Society for Earthquake Technology (NSET) which was at the forefront of efforts to retrofit existing buildings and promote better safety standards for new ones. In the 1990s warnings of the potential for catastrophic casualties in the increasingly densely populated Valley were also frequently voiced in the expanding private press and in 1999 an annual Earthquake Safety Day was instituted on the anniversary of the 1934 quake. Some of Nepal’s efforts were hailed as setting a model for South Asia as a whole and the earthquake of 2015 showed the resilience of retrofitted school buildings and the efficacy of the `Drop, cover and hold on’ advice when actually followed. However 2015 also showed that National Building Code guidelines had not been properly followed and that the most of the population had not been aware of official advice on how to protect themselves.