Safer Schools, Safer Communities
A comparative assessment of school safety after the 2015 Nepal (Gorkha) earthquakes
The effects of the earthquake on Nepal's educational infrastructure offer a rare opportunity to study whether previous interventions to improve building practices, combined with community engagement, have resulted in safer schools and communities. The primary questions we considered were:
- How did damage at purportedly disaster-resistant public school buildings, whether retrofitted or newly constructed, compare to damage of typical public school buildings?
- What affect, if any, did community engagement around safer schools have on risk awareness and community construction practices?
We selected 12 public schools, in sets of three, across four affected districts. The districts were selected for a range of social environments and earthquake impacts. In Bhaktapur, Kathmandu, Rasuwa, and Sindupalchowk, we compared three, geographically proximal public schools. At each site, we conducted interviews with school staff and management committees, parents, and lead masons involved in school construction. We also visually assessed school buildings and 15-20 nearby houses for damage.Key takeaways include:
- School buildings retrofitted to be earthquake-resistant generally perform better when coupled with mason training and on-site technical oversight.
- Where technical interventions were combined with community engagement, continuing disaster risk reduction efforts were ongoing, and would have protected students.
- In rural districts where Drop, Cover, and Hold had been drilled and promoted in school, some children and adults incorrectly ran into unsafe stone buildings and were unnecessarily killed. Communities are now highly distrustful of this message.
- Lack of non-structural mitigation in some schools resulted in loss of computers and science lab supplies. In schools that had performed non-structural mitigation, no losses were reported. Unsecured library shelving in most schools would have posed a safety risk.
- School projects that incorporate local masons, as opposed to using masons from outside the local community, stand a better chance of enabling the new, improved building techniques to permeate into the local building practices.
- Community engagement sites built trust in the projects–parents believed the projects were necessary and effective. Without engagement, parents misunderstood the intent of project, seeing it as unnecessary or a waste of school construction funds.
- With community engagement, some school staff became advocates for safer construction in the neighbourhoods around the school.