Scramble to save sacred lions after Nepal quake

2015-05-04 17:56

Kathmandu - A desperate scramble to unearth a sacred brass lion - buried beneath tons of bricks and concrete of what once the Thapathali Durbar Square in Kathmandu - has yet to cease as hundreds of police officers, soldiers and volunteers relentlessly move earth with their bare hands.

This as thousands of buildings were destroyed, in a country where 98% of them do not meet seismic safety codes, according to experts.

The sacred temple had four identical lions, one situated on each corner of the square base. Above them towered a white dome.

But by Sunday, one of the four lions still remained under a mountain of debris after the horror 7.8-magnitude earthquake which rocked the mountain country nearly 10 days ago.

Spiritually revered in Hindu culture, the lions were the religious focal point of the people of Thapathali and their importance, both culturally and in the hearts of the citizens of Nepal, has drawn hundreds in a bid to save them.

Three brass statues have been all but destroyed, and have been pulled from the mound in shards.

Even the mangled metal of those that were found is sacrosanct, and is delicately placed on the ground, before it is labelled and guarded. Some devotees have even taken to laying marigolds and money on the fallen sculptures.

 (Jeff Wicks, News24)

Searching for relics

The temple is one of three sacred sites in the city that was razed to the ground in a toll not only measured in deaths, but in cultural destruction.

Senior Armed Police Force officer R Rayamjhi confirmed to News24 that the search had continued unabated for days following the earthquake which has left more than 7 200 hundred people dead.

“We are here today to search for the relics and also to see if anyone was buried when the temple fell down,” he said.

The frenetic activity at the temple ground sends red dust from crushed bricks spiralling into the air as dutiful volunteers use wicker baskets to haul bricks away from the epicentre of the site.

Soldiers cry out in unison as they heave concrete beams from atop the pile of rubble.

Volunteer Roshan Mishra, whose home was destroyed in the quake, has spent days helping in the excavation effort.

“My home doesn't matter, it is only the temple that I care about,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.

“This is a place that I came to as child and we used to play in the ground. The temple was so special to me and when I saw it like this I could only cry. That is why I am here,” he added.

Little regard for seismic safety

Sachin Shrestha, who had left his job to be at the temple, said that the responsibility to save the relics trapped within was that of the Nepali people.

“This is our place, if we do not do this then no one will help us,” he said.

Most buildings in Nepal were, and still are being planned and constructed with little or no regard for seismic safety.

Until the mid 1990’s, no building code existed in Nepal, and due to a lack of policing of new structures built outside of the code, and the inability to rebuild older structures, thousands of buildings were destroyed in the quake.

According to the current Nepali building code, which defines design in terms of seismology, the country did not even have regulations or documents of its own setting out requirements or good practice for achieving satisfactory strength in buildings.

“The 1988 earthquake in Nepal, and the resulting deaths and damage to both housing and schools, again drew attention to the need for changes and improvement in current building construction and design methods,” it reads.

“Most residential buildings, even in urban areas of Nepal, do not receive any rational design for strength. Even though most municipalities do have a system of granting building permits, there is no provision in them for strength criteria.”

Design strength not factored in

The report states that planning permission does not factor in the requisite design strength to withstand earthquakes.

Even then, “there is poor institutional and technical capacity within the local authorities for implementing strength-related provisions if they were to be introduced to the building permit process”, it reads.

“On the professional front, too, there is no system of controlling the professional standards of engineers and designers. More than 98% of the buildings in Nepal are built by owner-builders who follow the advice of local craftsmen. Both of them are not aware of the possible disastrous consequences from an imminent earthquake.”

“Neither do they have any access to information related to safer building practices and incorporation of simple earthquake-resisting features at nominal extra cost. Even the building construction projects funded by national and multilateral agencies do not spell out any requirements related to seismic safety when they hand over the terms of reference to their consultants,” it reads.

 - Jeff Wicks is in Kathmandu courtesy of Gift of the Givers.

Read more on:    gift of the givers  |  nepal  |  earthquakes  |  nepal earthquake  |  natural disasters

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