The village of Chupar in the Nuwakot district of Nepal north of Kathmandu had all of its 200 houses destroyed in the earthquake of April 25, 2015. The village school was also destroyed, leaving the children with little or no options for attending classes. Immediately after the earthquake, we began receiving donations from many kind people to provide food and shelter. Two weeks after the earthquake Uttam Rai and I went to Nepal to distribute several tons of food, more than 200 tarps, and to see what more could be done. For the villagers the highest priority was a school. With no realistic prospect of assistance for the village from the Nepal government, we took on the task of raising more funds to build a new school that would include a clean source of water and proper sanitation.
Last summer a team here in Santa Fe evaluated methods of earthquake resistant construction that would be appropriate for a remote village in the hills of Nepal. We considered many factors, and chose improvements to the traditional building method that are affordable and use locally available materials. Frequent “through-stones” (large flat stones that span the width of the walls), single storey construction, and an appropriate length-to-width ratio for a building all improve earthquake survivability. Along with these practices, we adopted a key enhancement: “gabion banding” where periodic courses of stones are enclosed in a mesh material.
Gabion bands were conceived after the earthquake by the restoration architect Randolph Langenbach. These bands substitute for the wooden ring beams he found embedded in the walls of old buildings throughout the Himalayan region that have survived multiple earthquakes. To our knowledge, the Chupar project is the first to use polypropylene geogrid to hold the stones in a band together, allowing a wall to move during an earthquake without collapse.
Uttam and Budu Rai, Thad and Martha Clark Stewart, and I went to Nepal in early February to begin the rebuilding process. In late March the walls of the school were complete, and a “second shift” of volunteers arrived (Neil McKay and David English) to continue with the construction. All volunteers from the U.S. paid their own way to Nepal. The project paid Uttam’s and Budu’s transportation costs as they were essential to the entire rebuilding process. The villagers themselves did the hard labor of gathering, breaking, and moving large stones to the school site, and building the walls — a tremendous effort.
In February it seemed ambitious to think that a school could be built in two months—but it happened! I’m very happy to report that the 6-room school is now complete and classes are being held in the school! Also, a water system for the school was built and clean water flows from the tap next to the school. A dedicated composting latrine was under construction when we left and is now complete. A new house was built for Budu Rai’s parents and extended family. Like all families in the village and throughout the entire region, they were living in a rough, temporary shelter. They are very happy to be in their own home now, built on the same ground as the old one that was destroyed.
The Chupar project has been attracting attention from other groups and organizations who are rebuilding in Nepal. A group from Nepal School Projects, a Canadian NGO, came to visit Chupar while we were there to see the construction technique. They plan to rebuild some 80 schools that were damaged or destroyed in Kavre district using gabion banding. Also, the Deboche Project, along with Architects Without Borders of Seattle have expressed an interest in the gabion banding approach and may use it to rebuild the Buddhist nunnery in Deboche, high in the Khumbu (Mt. Everest) region of Nepal. The Bridge Fund has shown interest as well. So, it is good that this approach to rebuilding is starting to reach out across Nepal, offering a traditional method of construction with a simple, affordable addition—gabion banding—that, we believe, will greatly enhance earthquake resistance.
The school can now accommodate grades 1-5, an expansion over the old school that only taught grades 1-3. Now the village faces the challenge of finding more good teachers for the school. Currently, if children want to continue their education beyond what’s offered in Chupar, they have to walk over 2 hours each way to schools that offer through grade 10. More children could further their education if the village offered through grade 10. This would require additional classrooms in buildings like those built this spring.
Only 5% of the households in the village have begun to rebuild. The few houses we saw being built are using traditional methods except that they are now only single-storey. The rest of the families will be living in their temporary shelters through at least one more monsoon and winter. When families are ready to rebuild, we would like to supply geogrid that is unavailable to them. About $500 would cover the cost of geogrid for one typical size house.
The project purchased 135 domestic cook stoves from the Himalayan Stove Project. These stoves greatly improve indoor air quality and reduce firewood consumption. The shipment has been held up in Kolkata (India), and once it arrives in Kathmandu it will be stored until after the monsoon. This autumn the stoves will be delivered to Chupar and, as they are distributed, each recipient will be trained in their use.
What’s been rebuilt already
- School building
- Composting latrine for fertilizer
- School water system
- Family homes
What has yet to be done
- Expansion of school campus (above 5th grade)
- More cooking/heating stoves to improve air quality and health
Technology for earthquake resilience using indigenous resources
- Gabion Band Technology
- Resolving conflicts with government initiatives for building standards