Open Spaces & Disaster Management

Nepal Earthquake 2015 and Kathmandu

It was during the 2015 earthquake of Nepal, when we felt the need for having open spaces around us. Entire locales used to gather together in the available open spaces when the disaster struck. People were quite afraid to go their houses due to the threat of reoccurring aftershocks. Nepal is prone to a multitude of disasters, and Kathmandu is in a high earthquake risk zone. During the April 2015 Gorkha Earthquake, valley residents once again turned to the city’s open spaces. Thousands of families moved into large open spaces like Tundikhel. The parade ground also served as a debris management site. Similarly, Narayan Chaur became a temporary home for 7,000 people. Five days after the first big quake, 33 open spaces provided refuge to almost 31,000 residents of Kathmandu from 5,500 households. People stayed outdoors in temple squares, open lands, and fields, and the first responders were able to set up tents in large community parks.

The concept of open spaces identification for disaster preparedness in Nepal started from the 2009 Koshi floods response. Open space can be defined as space of public value, including land, river or reservoirs, organized green spaces, and sports amenities, as per the national policy on disaster management. In 2013, government planners identified 83 open spaces for evacuation and refuge during disasters. According to the 2020 IOM report, only about half of these sites are actually usable in an emergency. In addition, the report captures evidence-based data, such as total usable area and critical facilities in the vicinity of the open spaces, which are important for humanitarian response, such as hospitals, schools, and police stations, as well as water and sanitation facilities.

Some of them being Adarsha Azad School, Army Golf Club, open space in the airport on the TIA grounds, Bagmati corridor area, Balmiki Vidyapith School, Bhaktapur Bahumukhi Campus, Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Dasarath Stadium, Office of Election Commission Nepal, Gokul Chaur Area, Hyatt Regency Hotel premises, and so on. New small buildings, storage areas, and infrastructure expansion have eaten into important space. Ten sites have been dropped from the list, as they now serve other purposes. The report highlights other problems—an almost total lack of on-site water and sanitation facilities; unsuitable terrain; scarce local participation, especially of marginalized groups; low public awareness; and insufficient routine emergency drills. Some local governments did not even realize that spaces under their jurisdiction are designated as earthquake evacuation sites.

Importance of open spaces in a multi-hazard country
Open spaces are lively sites that have a distinct character. They can serve as spaces of assembly, space for transaction and movement, and place for leisure and recreation, and they have crucial roles in times of disaster. Kathmandu Valley is a major cultural, economic, and political center that has developed over the last 2000 years. The valley’s long history of many dynasties, including the Malla dynasty, had built some notable environment, streets, and open spaces, the great city squares being the historic cores. Compared to the previous segregated open spaces, new urban planning lacks the open spaces meant for people. Lack of proper design and spaces and its maintenance leads to clustered housing. Traditionally, Kathmandu residents used many types of open spaces as streets, courtyards (bahal/ bahil), neighborhood squares (nani/chuka), palace squares, and open space at the town periphery (khyo, buffer zone). These communal spaces were places where people would turn to for safety and shelter and helped to create resilience. History has actually shown the importance of Kathmandu’s open spaces time and again.

Nepal needs to plan not for a single, but for multiple hazards: earthquake and floods occur in Nepal at the same time, or even simultaneous earthquake, flood, and pandemic. Nepal ranks 11th and 30th worldwide in earthquake and flood vulnerability. The World Health Organization recommends 9.00 sq m of open space per person. Kathmandu has about 0.25 sq m per person. Lalitpur has only 0.06 sq m per person. So, neighborhoods with the least open spaces have to be prioritized. Regular drills are needed everywhere, so people know where to go and what to do in a crisis. Apart from being the safety zones during disasters, the open spaces and their spatial arrangement gives visual pleasure on observing the city. Without these, there would have been loss of identity and our traditional styles.

The durbar squares built during the Malla era are such examples; places like these provide relief to our sore eyes. Haphazard urban growth has killed the natural beauty of the valley. The contemporary physical growth in the valley seems to be taking place without a vision. Apart from a few planned neighborhoods and residential quarters, the growth has been haphazard. This leads to lack of concern towards better space formation. Urban sprawl leads to loss of continuity to historic values and identity. It doesn’t only lack the historic touch, but it is degrading in terms of greenery. In March 2022, when the air quality index reached 154, Kathmandu was ranked the most polluted city in the world.

Good urban design values open spaces for the benefit of adding beauty to the environment, and which also determines the health of the community. Open spaces created are mostly valued for the aesthetics and the environmental benefit they bring to the community. Open spaces play a crucial role for the community when disaster strikes. In Nepal, disasters have occurred over many years, and it is followed by devastation. Urban development and progress have been instrumental in formulating ways to prevent, mitigate, and reduce damages. A catastrophic situation follows disaster, which alters the pattern of life, and intervention is required to save lives, as well as the environment. Common disasters occurring in Nepal are earthquake, landslide, flood, glacial lake outburst flood, avalanche, fire, drought, and epidemic. The increasing population and building of high-rises in the city have brought more concern during earthquakes.

Among the lessons learned from Nepal’s Gorkha Earthquake is that there needs to be an adequate number of helipads. Open spaces play an important role in the rescue and recovery operations during floods. Flood rescue zones that are made higher than the surroundings would be effective for rescue. During an earthquake, a variety of open spaces gives robustness to the city. Similarly, open areas help in mitigating forest fires. And, establishment of specific green belts mitigate the effects of landslides. Therefore, there is diverse and comprehensive role of open spaces and the need for them to be incorporated in our future design planning.

Check Also

USA CDC on COVID-19 Vaccine-Related Deaths

Recent revelations from The Epoch Times shed light on a controversial issue surrounding COVID-19 vaccines …

Sahifa Theme License is not validated, Go to the theme options page to validate the license, You need a single license for each domain name.