Kathmandu, July 9, 2015 - For years, various national and international studies have claimed that the Kathmandu Valley is highly prone to earthquakes and that most infrastructure and buildings in the Valley are not strong enough to resist a high magnitude quake.

Based on IOM study, it is estimated that population of 3.5 million living in the confines of the Kathmandu Valley along with the high number of sub-standard buildings means that a major earthquake [9 on the Richter Scale] will have disastrous consequences for Kathmandu residents.  It is expected that the earthquake could leave 40,000 dead, between 100,000 - 200,000 injured, 60% of buildings destroyed, and between 600,000 - 900,000 left homeless.

Addressing the above issue, in 2013, a joint Ministry of Home Affairs and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) assessment, with the support from USAID/OFDA, identified 83 open spaces suitable for Shelter, Aid and Medical Help (S.A.M) in the Kathmandu Valley. These open Spaces are designed to provide the initial response framework for the Government and partner agencies to engage in life-saving assistance to those in immediate need.

Sadly, as predicted, a major earthquake hit twice this year, first on April 25th with the epicenter in Gorkha, and later on May 12th with the epicenter in Sindhulpalchowk. These two earthquakes and number of aftershocks have highly impacted the life of people. More than 8.1 million people are affected across 39 of Nepal’s 75 districts, around 2.8 million people living in the 14 most severely affected districts, over 279,330 houses damaged and 505,577 houses destroyed.   People often think of resilient after major earthquakes making sure that their house structure must be earthquake proof and resistant. But have we ever thought of what role do open spaces play in increasing communities’ resilience to potentially catastrophic events?

After the first earthquake, IOM conducted a rapid assessment and showed that all 83 open spaces in Kathmandu Valley were used. People whose houses are not damaged or partially damaged lived in a tent in front of their house, whereas the people whose houses were partially or completely damaged or reside in a risky area ran to all the identified open spaces or any other open areas. 

People admitted that the availability of these open spaces provided them with immediate safety. Slowly, those people living in rented houses started returning back to their houses in districts outside Kathmandu Valley because of the fear of another major earthquake, or their rented house being cracked or destroyed. Some returned back to accompany and rescue their family in the earthquake hit districts.

Another rapid assessment was conducted by IOM from 29 to 30 April after the fifth day of the earthquake. It was found that 33 open spaces were still being used holding 30,904 internally displaced populations from 5,529 Households. People were still living inside the tents on the open spaces because of the fear or they did not have any option to go back to the destroyed house. The sites therefor acted as the place to meet the basic humanitarian needs. It included all the communities including female-headed household, child-headed household, elderly-headed household, pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, unaccompanied/separated children, persons with chronic disease/disability/serious medical condition and members of marginalized caste/ethnicity.

These open spaces gave shelter not only to the people from Kathmandu Valley but also of residents who have fled from other districts, with the majority of residents from Sindhulpalchowk.

The assessment clearly shows how open space helps community resilience: physical resilience, holistic well-being of individuals and helping them recover from the earthquakes.

Getting to know where these open spaces are located beforehand can save lives and increase communities’ resilience to disasters. When disaster hit, people can immediately go to these sites to get the aid they need. It can also encourage pro-environmental behavior by making sure that these sites will stay as it is as well as encourages bonding among neighbors.

Further investment in establishing a better management of open spaces shall include organized and well equipped sites. Participation of women, men and other social groups in the design, implementation and monitoring of national and community programs will be crucial. These open spaces should go beyond just allocating the space and focus on the underlying risk even in non-affected areas to develop a holistic approach for risk reduction in Kathmandu Valley.

Through the Preparedness and Management of Open Spaces for Effective Humanitarian Response in Kathmandu Valley (P-MOS) with financial support from USAID/OFDA, IOM is assisting the Government of Nepal in Lalitpur and Kirtipur Municipality to enhance their emergency preparedness efforts. Moreover, IOM work in partnership with the two Municipalities to establish coherent approaches in responding to and managing the need of the displaced population after a large-scale earthquake in the Kathmandu Valley.

An outreach strategy was set to promote 28 open spaces both in Lalitpur and Kirtipur Municipality prior to the earthquakes. A series of public awareness activities and events was also in place and will continue in September. In addition to that, Standard of Procedures (SOPs) has been designed for the management of the open spaces by Community Disaster Management Committee (CDMC). 

The way forward for this project lies ahead is the contextualization of the Global Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) module. It is expected to be incorporated in the National Disaster Management Training Curriculum by end of this year.

In the near future, IOM plans to support the Government of Nepal in promoting and preserving the 55 open spaces in Bhaktapur and Kathmandu Municipality as well as identifying more open spaces in other major cities in Nepal.


By Puja Shrestha 

Program Associate, PMOS Project, IOM Nepal 

For further information on PMOS project, please contact: Jitendra Bohara, Program Coordinator at jbohara@iom.int