Safer, earthquake-resistant housing

Article, 13.10.2017

With an increase in disasters caused by violent natural phenomena, prevention is now key. The SDC is involved in earthquake-resistant reconstruction in countries such as Nepal and Ecuador, where 7.8 magnitude earthquakes recently destroyed homes on a massive scale.

Bricklayers building the walls of a house.
Bricklayers and apprentices in earthquake-resistant construction working in Pedernales, Ecuador, 2017. © SDC

Violent natural phenomena strike all countries indiscriminately but their repercussions are all the more dramatic in poor countries. The United Nations International Day for Disaster Reduction aims to encourage efforts to strengthen the resilience of communities and countries affected by disasters. In Nepal and Ecuador, where a sizeable proportion of the population was recently left homeless, the SDC is supporting reconstruction and investing in reducing future risks. It has experience in this area, having conducted similar work in Pakistan in 2004 and Haiti in 2010. 

Training provided in earthquake-resistant construction to Nepal’s most vulnerable people 

Violent earthquakes in Nepal on 25 April and 12 May 2015 killed more than 8,500 people, injured more than 22,000 and destroyed or seriously damaged approximately 750,000 homes, leaving 3.2 million people temporarily homeless. After first providing victims with shelter, basic necessities, food and kits for clean drinking water, as well as medical assistance for women who were pregnant or had just given birth, the Swiss Humanitarian Aid experts found that the homes in rural areas had been very severely damaged. Houses in the poor mountain districts, where building quality was inferior, had been less able to withstand the earthquakes than those in the urban centres. 

The Nepalese people started to rebuild their homes immediately after the disaster. However, many knew nothing about earthquake-resistant building techniques. The SDC, which has been in Nepal for several decades, responded by expanding one of its vocational training projects already under way. It produced manuals and organised courses to teach more reliable construction methods to those in the building trade. Following the operation’s success, the project was extended until the end of 2017. The SDC also launched a direct technical support project for Nepalese home owners. Through the project, Swiss Humanitarian Aid experts have been able to provide their skills and know-how to 4,500 home owners in the Ramechhap District, introducing them to techniques for building safer homes. The buildings are erected using local materials and strengthened with earthquake-resistant structures made of reinforced concrete or wood, complying where possible with the region’s architectural vernacular. 

The SDC has focused its efforts in rural, isolated communities. Coordinating the various stakeholders on the ground – including local government, the Swiss embassy, Swiss and international NGOs and development banks – has generated synergies and increased the effectiveness of the aid. Switzerland has also contributed CHF 7 million to a multi donor trust fund managed by the World Bank that supports Nepal's National Reconstruction Authority. The fund has given the most vulnerable the means to rebuild safer homes, including a CHF 3,000 donation to every household experiencing financial hardship, provided they make a formal commitment to comply with the building code on seismic resilience. 

Raising awareness of disaster risk among Ecuadorian building professionals 

One year later, on 16 April 2016, an earthquake hit Ecuador. The experience the SDC had acquired in Nepal and elsewhere was deployed for the benefit of the Ecuadorian people. Thanks to support from the SDC experts, local builders, carpenters, engineers and architects were able to improve their skills and learn to build more earthquake-resistant structures. A campaign was organised over a vast area to raise awareness of earthquake-resistant construction in the various schools that train building specialists. Ecuador is prone to frequent earthquakes owing to its geographical position at the triple junction of tectonic plates. The country therefore wants to invest in earthquake-resistant building and increase its future resilience.