On a balmy spring day in 2015, a little before 12 o’clock, a massive earthquake occurred in Nepal. In the days and weeks that followed there were a number of aftershocks, leaving almost 9,000 casualties. Primary schools are now being rebuilt in one ofAccording to the United Nations, more than 8 million people in 39 of the country’s 75 districts were affected by the powerful tremors of 2015. In the Dolakha district just south of the Himalayas, all the schools were destroyed, partly by a large aftershock which had its epicentre in the district. Until recently, teaching took place in temporary huts.

Authorities and aid organisations have prioritised the building of primary schools in Dolakha. In an area of steep and unstable mountainsides, there are many challenges in securing school buildings. Good geotechnical assessments are therefore critical for the safety of schoolchildren.

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The Dolakha district borders the world’s highest mountain range, the Himalayas. (Photo: NGI)

Future protection against tremors

Earlier this year, geotechnical engineers Åse Marit Wist Amdal and Øyvind Armand Høydal of NGI were in Nepal for two weeks to assist with this work, on an assignment conducted by Engineers Without Borders Norway (EWB) and the aid organisation FORUT. The two NGI employees visited eleven schools which were either to be rebuilt or were already under construction. Masters student Thomas Ødegård from the University of Stavanger was also involved in the work.

"Most schools are built on terraces on steep terrain, where there are frequently landslides and rockslides. Our assignment was to perform overall geotechnical assessments. After looking at the conditions, we made simple sketches and suggested measures such as retaining walls and ramparts to combat rockslides and landslides that could easily occur if there are further earthquakes," says Åse Marit Wist Amdal, project engineer at NGI. 

Recommendations and suggestions for specific safeguards have been collected in a report delivered to FORUT.

"We are very grateful that Åse Marit Wist Amdal, Øyvind Armand Høydal and Thomas Ødegard have used their skills to increase safety for all the children who will be going to the schools for many years to come. We have already started improving the land and following up on the safety recommendations in the report," says Hilde Ekeberg, project manager for FORUT.
 

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There were warm receptions and great hospitality from all 11 schools that were visited by Øyvind A. Høydal and Åse Marit Wist Amdal from NGI, on an assignment from Engineers Without Borders Norway and the aid organisation FORUT. (Photo: NGI)

Meaningful work

The Norwegian geotechnical engineers were also asked to assess the stability of the construction of an annex to a children’s hospital in the capital Kathmandu. Kanti Children’s Hospital will be the first hospital in the country to build a children’s psychiatric clinic. A geotechnical report had already been prepared. NGI’s geotechnical engineers were asked to perform an independent review.
"When we got there we saw that the building plot was on a hillside where there were challenges with stability. We pointed out shortcomings in the report and have proposed concrete measures that could improve slope stability and mitigate risk in the event of new earthquakes," says Åse Marit.
She found it extremely rewarding and meaningful to help make the reconstruction of schools in Nepal safer. Meeting the schoolchildren and the dedicated teachers left a profound impression. The conditions everywhere were very spartan, with a lack of books and educational materials.
"It became an educational trip and it felt extremely useful to be there. The local organisation, responsible for the planning of the building work, greatly appreciated our proposed actions. Once we saw one teacher teaching in three classrooms at the same time. We gained great respect for what they have achieved. And the warm reception and hospitality will stay with us for a long time," says Åse Marit.

Proud community engagement

NGI’s expertise covers everything that involves land, rock and snow and their impact on the environment, constructions and facilities. NGI research and develop solutions for society, ensuring that we can live, build and travel on safe ground. These are key skills in aid projects where clean water, electricity and infrastructure are of vital importance.

"There is a lot of interest among NGI employees to participate in this kind of work to benefit society. I am proud lead a company with so many employees engaged in society who are willing to use both working hours and their free time to help their fellow people," says Lars Andresen, managing director of NGI.
 

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School uniforms help to even out inequalities in the schools of Nepal.  (Photo: NGI)

IN BRIEF:

  • Engineers Without Borders Norway (EWB) is an interest organisation promoting development through the dissemination of engineering expertise to Norwegian aid agencies.
  • As one of the main partners, NGI supports Engineers Without Borders Norway (EWB) financially and by contributing engineering skills to many EWB assignments for Norwegian aid organisations.
  • NGI specialists participating in assignments abroad are given the opportunity to use their technical background to make a difference to other people’s lives.
  • The 2015 Nepal earthquake occurred on the morning of 25 April 2015, with a number of powerful aftershocks later in April and in May, and is the greatest natural disaster to have affected the country since the Nepal-Bihar earthquake of 1934.
  • Entire villages, roads and other important infrastructure were laid in ruins. In the Dolakha district, over 90% of buildings collapsed. Almost 9,000 people died, and 22,000 were injured.
  • FORUT is a Norwegian aid organisation working on social mobilisation and poverty reduction in a number of countries in Asia and Africa. It is owned by the Norwegian peace and temperance organisations IOGT, Juvente and Juba.
  • FORUT and CWIN, the local organisation, have received funding from Norwegian authorities to build schools in Nepal.