Local Solutions for a Global Economy


Engineers organized by BCN and GFI submit report to Government of Nepal

Engineers organized by BCN and GFI submit report to Government of Nepal

eKantipur, an online publication of the Kathmandu Post, recently documented the report submitted to the government of Nepal by engineers GFI and BCN sent to Nepal last May. The report underscores the importance of oversight for the enforcement of building codes in Nepal. The full text of the article can be viewed below.

KATHMANDU, JULY 25 - A team of structural engineers from the United States with global expertise in disaster assessment has analysed the key reasons for building failures in the recent earthquake and provided recommendations in an official report on how to improve the safety of Nepal’s buildings.

While Nepal’s current building codes and standards should be updated, taking steps to improve enforcement and the quality of construction is more important at this point than improving the Code, the report said. Many recommendations focus on the need for more accountability and oversight to ensure that buildings are not only safe on paper but in practice.

The report focuses on the main types of buildings found in Kathmandu and surrounding areas.

The majority of historic and older construction as well as new homes in rural areas are Unreinforced Masonry (URM) structures, comprised of either brick with mud mortar or adobe construction. These types were the worst performers in the earthquake, although URM structures with cement mortar appeared to outperform URM with mud mortar. The report advises banning mud mortar, with exceptions made only for low-rise buildings in rural areas.

It calls for accountability for the design team and contractors as well as on-site field investigations during construction to ensure that contractors follow the approved documents while erecting or altering buildings.

“The Code can say anything but means nothing if it is not followed or enforced,” the report warned.

“There are of course problems with the old bricks and mud construction, but that’s not used too much today. The real problem is the number of people adding additional floors on houses not intended for additional floor,” said Scott Douglas, a structural engineer.

The team of 16 experts from the US, New Zealand and Australia assessed over 3,000 buildings in the aftermath of the April 25 earthquake, including homes, schools, colleges, hospitals, heritage sites, high-rise apartments and public buildings.

Newer urban buildings tend to be Reinforced Concrete (RC) frame structures, but only a small percentage, such as high-rise apartments and business complexes, are engineered for the site. The vast majority of RC frame structures follow a prescriptive design using “mandatory rules of thumb” laid out in Nepal’s building codes, and are designed by builders without formal training.

“It is not easy to characterise the performance of these buildings because … significant height violations of the [prescriptive rules] were commonplace,” the report noted. “From what was observed, this design was used for buildings, in some cases, exceeding seven storeys in height resulting in overstressed beams, columns and foundations.”

When those buildings did not violate the code, were not compromised by shoddy workmanship, and were not built on soil that experienced liquefaction, a phenomenon common in former lake-beds such as the Kathmandu Valley where soil in a quake can behave like jelly, they were able to withstand the 7.9 earthquake with minimal damage.

One major cause of collapse, however, was the prevalence of soft storeys, meaning the tendency of buildings to include open storefronts or large open spaces on the ground floor. Another common damage was to infill walls, which was non-structural but could still pose a hazard. The report provides photographic documentation of different types of failures.

According to Yogeshwar Parajuli, commissioner at the Kathmandu Valley Development Authority, the report will be available on the KVDA website. “This report will serve as a useful reference to Nepali engineers and will be circulated widely among different departments,” said Minister for Urban Development Narayan Khadka while receiving the report. The structural engineers with expertise in disaster assessment, retrofitting and historic preservation were brought to Nepal by Global Fairness Initiative (GFI) and worked in partnership with the government of Nepal, Nepal Engineering Association, Brick Clean Group Nepal, Minergy, the Building Back Right campaign and volunteers.

“Many buildings were observed that either did not meet the code or were subsequently modified with interior renovations and vertical or horizontal additions, making them non-compliant,” the report said. “This document contains information that can be used by both engineers and non-engineers, along with lots of tips on what to do to strengthen houses,” said Homraj Acharya, Nepal country director of the GFI.

Based in Washington, DC, GFI has been working in Nepal with local partners and funding from Humanity United to promote sustainability and the elimination of child and bonded labour in the brick industry.

    Int’l team’s study of 3,000 buildings
  • Need for more accountability and oversight to ensure that buildings are not only safe on paper but in practice
  • Report advises banning mud mortar, with exceptions made only for low-rise buildings in rural areas
  • Accountability urged for the design team and contractors as well as on-site field investigations during construction
  • Vast majority of Reinforced Concrete frame structures designed by builders without formal training
  • One major cause of collapse was prevalence of soft storeys—tendency of buildings to include open storefronts or large open spaces on the ground floor
  • Read the full article on the eKantipur website here.

    Stand for Tunisian Unity

    Stand for Tunisian Unity

    The following piece was authored by GFI's Tunisia Country Director, Asma Ben Hassen Darragi. Asma has been working with GFI in Tunisia for almost 3 years, where she leads the local implementation of the Tunisia Inclusive Labor Initiative (TILI).

    TUNIS, JULY 15 - Once again, terrorism strikes our country. The treacherous and brutal attack has left us all in a state of shock. We are all well Saware of the gravity and seriousness of the situation. However, it’s not just the attack that worries us, but also the reality that lies behind it: an evil ploy that seeks to demolish the state, weaken its economy, and impede its democratic process.

    We dreamed of a new Tunisia, a free, fair, and democratic Tunisia. But, here we are, with an abused and poor Tunisia that seems to be the victim of its own democracy. The new democratic process is now home to extremists that seek to create chaos in the country. Tunisia is still a young democracy at a perilous, embryonic stage that could easily perish in spite of the will of its people to overcome their differences and achieve the goals of their revolution.

    No one can deny that the first months after the revolution have determined a new destiny of Tunisia, and still no government has been able to overcome the political, security, and economic vacuum in the country. The fall of the old regime and its repercussions on security matters are far reaching. Religious fundamentalists and arm dealers have infiltrated our borders and amid economic malaise and political instability, terrorists have taken root in one of the most moderate and inclusive societies in the Arab world.

    The nature of the latest attacks confirms the motive to destroy the tourism industry, a key sector in Tunisia that was strongly affected by the revolution. The paralysis of the mining sector and the flight of foreign direct investment has caused the national economy to collapse dramatically, leaving many without work and threatening the national union of the revolution.

    Poverty, unemployment, and regional disparities increasingly exclude and marginalize people who are now the first targets of the terrorist recruiting networks that falsely promise a more just life in the hereafter. Unsurprisingly, the winning of the Nidaa Tounis party in the last election was based on its campaign that promised national security and economic recovery. However, far from recovery, the situation has since soured. Tunisia’s democracy will pay the price for the lack of a thoughtful political, economic, and social strategy and a firm security policy that does not diminish Tunisians’ human rights and newly acquired freedoms.

    Such a strategy should ensure political stability, the necessary condition for the establishment of an economic and social recovery program that affirms the inclusion of all Tunisians. As social tensions threaten to destabilize the country and continue to disrupt the government's efforts, civil society should foster awareness, disseminate Tunisia’s values, and protect a vulnerable youth targeted by religious fanatics.

    Moreover, civil society must extend the implementation of an inclusive social and economic program that supports Tunisians and maintains our national union.

    Although our revolution has led to a real democratic progress, the journey to consolidate our gains is still long. It is imperative to fight together against the single enemy that is "terrorism". Our politicians must rise to the challenge of strengthening and preserving our unity.

    by Asma Ben Hassen Darragi

    Hamal Named Goodwill Ambassador For Reconstruction

    Hamal Named Goodwill Ambassador For Reconstruction

    KATHMANDU, JULY 01 - The Building Back Right campaign for responsible reconstruction was launched on Wednesday. Nepali film superstar Rajesh Hamal was named as Goodwill Ambassador for the volunteer initiative.

    “Buildings have to be technically sound, environmentally sound, ethically sound and reflect our own culture,” said Hama during the launching programme on Wednesday. He added, “We can’t just be so concerned with putting up a building that we’re blind when we see kids working at construction sites. We have to be careful what labor force we use and be concerned with rights and justice. This is an opportunity to reconstruct in an environmentally sound way, too, which in itself is an education.”

    Building Back Right is a volunteer-led campaign to encourage the public, international donors and Nepal’s government to rebuild after the April 25 earthquake in accordance with principles that support heritage, ethics and the environment as well as the highest possible safety standards.

    “It’s really about ‘right action’ and ‘right livelihood,’ as the Buddha articulated thousands of years ago. People often try to ignore those responsibilities by saying it’s not the right time to worry about those things. But if now isn’t the right time to be ethical, sustainable and support our heritage, the right time will never come,” said campaign co-founder Homraj Acharya.

    “We’ve been saying ‘we’ll do it better later’ for the past 50 years in this country. I think we’ve said ‘later’ enough. We need to build back right, and we need to do it now,” Hamal added.

    The Chief Guest at the event, Deputy Prime Minister Bamadev Gautam, said “This campaign is very much needed. We should be able to change the kind of dialogue we have nationally on how to rebuild our country.”

    The multi-partisan group of Distinguished Guests included Ram Karki, parliamentarian from UCPN (Maoist), and Arjun Narsingh KC, former minister, current parliamentarian and senior leader of Nepali Congress.

    “These are very good ideas, but there is one component that should be added, which is making it politically right,” Karki noted.

    KC said the issue should be brought to the parliament to include in the policy discussion. “These are very timely and important ideas to bring into the public arena,” he said.

    Also among the Distinguished Guests were actress Sushma Karki, Rajendra Khanal, IUCN program director, and General Secretary of the Nepal Engineers’ Association Kishwor Kumar Jha. Out of all municipalities, only 10 are using the code at the moment, and the code itself is due for significant revision, Jha said. Enforcement is another area where government needs to be serious, he said.

    As Nepal rebuilds, the environment must be brought to the forefront, Khanal said. “Wherever we migrate, we migrate on the same planet, which is earth. How best can we repair this planet? If we don’t have this planet, there’s no meaning in saying we’re American, Nepali, Finnish or whatever. Our citizenship is of this planet, and when we build, we need to pay attention to those things.”

    Read the full article on the eKantipur website here.

    Jan Jones Blackhurst Joins Global Fairness Initiative Board


    Distinguished business leader and former Las Vegas Mayor joins the GFI Board of Directors

    Washington, DC – The Global Fairness Initiative (GFI), an International NGO working to create more equitable, sustainable livelihoods for the working poor, has announced that Jan Jones Blackhurst will join the GFI Board of Directors. A respected business leader and former Mayor of the City of Las Vegas, Jones Blackhurst joins a GFI Board comprised of distinguished leaders and luminaries representing government, civil society, labor, and the private sector.

    "It is a pleasure to welcome Jan to the Global Fairness Initiative Board of Directors,” said Dr. Danilo Türk, Former President of Slovenia and GFI Board Chair. “She is an exemplary leader who throughout her career has bridged the relationship between business and community interests, and the governments that serve both, and I am so pleased to have her as a colleague on the GFI Board.”

    Jan Jones Blackhurst served as the first female Mayor of the City of Las Vegas. During her two-term tenure as Mayor, she lead Las Vegas as the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the United States and pioneered numerous successful public-private sector partnerships, making Las Vegas the best American city for entrepreneurs, according to Inc. Magazine. The various capital projects she oversaw as Mayor include the $70 million Fremont Street Experience, a $90 million Federal Courthouse, and a $170 million regional Justice Center. Jones Blackhurst is currently an Executive Vice President at Caesars Entertainment Corp. Her work at Caesars Entertainment includes the development of industry leading responsible gaming systems and a company wide focus on environmental awareness and promoting diversity.

    “We are thrilled Jan will be joining our fantastic Board of Directors,” said Global Fairness Initiative founder Karen Tramontano. “She is a strong and collaborative leader who I have admired from her time in government and the private sector, and we are lucky to have her as part of GFI.”

    The Global Fairness Initiative is an International NGO that works to create a more equitable, sustainable approach to economic development, and to make our global economy work for those who need it most, the world’s working poor. For over a decade GFI has steadily built a track record of success through innovative programs to reduce poverty, enfranchise informal communities, and advance human rights and livelihoods in all parts of the world. To learn more about our important work visit www.globalfairness.org.


    Jan Jones Blackhurst's biography, and the full press release announcing her addition to the GFI Board of Directors, can be viewed or downloaded below.

    The Rising Nepal: Damaged High Rises Require Expertise of Foreign Contractors

    The Rising Nepal: Damaged High Rises Require Expertise of Foreign Contractors

    The Rising Nepal, an online publication, details the urgent need of international demolition contractors in Nepal. High rise buildings damaged by the recent earthquakes pose a dangerous risk to adjacent structures and their inhabitants and the people of Nepal needs the expertise of experienced demolition contractors. The full text of the article can be viewed below.

    KATHMANDU, MAY 29 - While the government and general public are perplexed about pulling down the high-rises damaged by the tremors in the Kathmandu Valley, a team of international experts has suggested inviting demolition contractors from other parts of the world.

    Speaking at an interaction programme here today, professors and engineers from the United States, Australia and New Zealand underscored the need to demolish the derelict high-rises as they posed threat to occupants in adjoining houses.

    The engineers were presenting their opinions and suggestions after visiting Kathmandu, Sindhupalchowk and Bhaktapur and assessing about 800 houses and cultural monuments damaged by the earthquakes. The visit was coordinated by the Global Fairness Initiative Nepal and other organizations.

    "Nepal urgently needs the support of demolition contractors. There are professional companies having expertise in such operations. Hence, I suggest Nepal government to invite those contractors," said Jason Ingham, professor of Civil, Environmental and Mine Engineering at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

    Ingham, who has expertise in structural engineering, however, suggested engaging such contractors with the local engineers.

    "It is not happening only in Nepal. There is a lot of learning from other countries," said Ingham who has worked in the reconstruction and planning after the Canterbury earthquake in 2011 in New Zealand.

    The government is seeking international assistance in demolishing the high-rises since it lacks the tools and equipment required to pull down the houses taller than four storeys.

    Sonny Fite, Structural Engineering Manager at Target Corporation, USA suggested that the houses that sustained the jolts also needed to be evaluated since they might have been weakened internally.

    "The damage assessment must be done by the structural engineers and they should communicate the finding to the house owner immediately," he said.

    The experts also suggested not to demolish any building without detailed engineering.

    The April 25 earthquake and powerful aftershocks completely damaged 500,000 buildings while more than 270,000 buildings were partially damaged.

    According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, thousands of partially damaged houses in the Kathmandu valley needed to be demolished while the derelict buildings that pose threat to the people and houses nearby must be pulled down immediately.

    Up to 30 storey buildings in the Valley

    The engineers and experts said that 25 to 30 storey buildings can be constructed in the Kathmandu Valley.

    However, they should be properly engineered, well conceived and reinforced, they said.

    "The devastating earthquake and aftershocks have damaged the walls of the apartment buildings in the valley, their structure is fine. Therefore we suggest making a reinforced concrete wall at the centre of the building," said Art Schultz, an engineer from the US.

    The engineers suggested not erecting buildings taller than two storeys if it doesn't use concrete structure.

    "Don't vie for taller structure for non-engineered house, instead make short building and use bamboo and other light materials," opined Michael Griffiths, professor of Civil, Environment and Mining at the University of Adelaide, Australia.

    The experts also said that the government's jurisdiction ability must be enhanced and there must be somebody to be held accountable.

    Read the full article on the Rising Nepal website here.