Safe structures

The debate about what kind of structures suit us, given our peculiar climate and the fact that we are in a seismic zone, was seen raging in the aftermath of that terrible earthquake in 2005. At that time there were prolonged discussions in the entire valley – in the civil society, in the media, in different government institutions – about the importance of adopting an architecture that can withstands the shocks.

After that we faced a devastating flood of 2014. Once again there were discussions on what should be the pattern of our housing, and how can we save ourselves from a disaster like the 2014 floods. People started talking about the city planning, about the safety measures, and about how the rules were violated in the recent decades to the overall detriment of lives and property.

On both these occasions we exhibited a hyper-activism and an overly sensitive attitude towards the problems that were underlined by the natural disasters in our architecture and planning. But soon we resorted to the old practices. In fact we did more violation to the common sense and specific expertise that had come to limelight on both the occasions. The result is that neither our residential areas nor our markets are safe from the effects of earthquake and floods.

In fact if anything has happened it is that we have added to our vulnerability. In the recent snowfall we have again exposed our vulnerabilities as we saw many houses crumbling under the burden of snow that accumulated on the rooftops.

It underlines a serious flaw in our overall thinking. We are more concerned about the decoration and face-lifting of our houses than we are about the strength and safety. The result is that we put our lives at great risk. We have once again woken up to the reality that the first thing we should be mindful of, when we construct a house, is the safety of the structure. The way we saw huge houses collapsing in a very shocking manner serves as a reminder to all of us that we should not violate the basics of architecture and structural engineering. The concerned agencies, both in government and non-government sector, need to undertake a public sensitisation initiative on this aspect of public safety.