Brick industry build back cleaner and better in Nepal

   TwitCount
Photo credit: Subasana Shrestha/ICIMOD

Brick production is regarded as one of the most polluting industries. Due to the importance of bricks in the building sector of Nepal, kilns are regarded as a necessary evil. A 2011 study by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) estimated coal consuming industries contribute eight percent of black carbon (BC) emission in Nepal and the brick industry, the second largest industry in Nepal, is responsible for most of it.

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal in April 2015 left the brick industry tottering with 350 out of 800 kilns in Nepal affected and 100 damaged in the Kathmandu Valley alone. 

Nearly a half million buildings were completely destroyed and more than a quarter million were damaged partially. Demand for construction materials shot up as reconstruction began. The government estimated brick demand would increase nearly fourfold that of 2013 and 2014. The destruction of the kilns meant supply would fall far short of pre-quake demands. 

Assessment of the damage to kiln chimneys and the outer and inner walls of the firing zone and almost all kilns within the valley, even those that appeared unscathed, needed major maintenance to be operational. The brick industry is an energy intensive and weather dependent business and one of the main sources of black carbon in the region.

The Atmosphere Initiative of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) identified potential environmental risks associated with brick demand. The threat of increase in the number of brick kilns and possibilities for brick kiln owners to overlook standards in kiln design was considered. Another problem expected was compromise in the safety of workers. 

The challenges were viewed in positive light. It was regarded as a timely opportunity to encourage kiln owners to take up new environmentally sound technologies while also raising awareness about alternative building materials. With support from the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), the initiative carried out a feasibility study of rebuilding brick kilns and enhancing their efficiency which would ultimately contribute to reduction of black carbon and other emissions. 

To convince entrepreneurs to rebuild structurally sound kilns, proper guidelines were necessary. ICIMOD, the Federation of Nepal Brick Industries (FNBI), MinErgy and GreenTech and Climate and Health Research Network (CHeRN), after many discussions and meetings with a team of country and regional experts, drafted guidelines in June 2015. The guidelines were presented during the Multi-stakeholder Inception Meeting on Policy and Advocacy for Reforming Brick Sector in July 2015 by FNBI, MinErgy and ICIMOD in Kathmandu. The meeting brought together people from different fields — brick entrepreneurs, government officials from regulatory offices, non-profit, international, and intergovernmental agencies — to discuss existing policy and regulatory frameworks and identify gaps. It also aimed to understand available technology options and existing and future financing mechanisms which would be critical in developing improved guidelines that would be more applicable and adaptable. 

One of the main purposes of the meeting was to inform people from different fields of the application of guidelines for brick kiln construction. 

‘We want people to have a stake in the guidelines so that they are more likely to make use of them’, said Bidya Banmali Pradhan, Associate Coordinator of Atmosphere Initiative at ICIMOD. 

Chief Guest Mahesh Basnet, Minister, Ministry of Industry and Special Guest Swarnim Wagle, National Planning Commission were present during the meeting. Speaking on the occasion, Hon’ble Wagle explained the concept of ‘build back better’. Focusing on possible opportunities the earthquake had brought to the country, he emphasised the destruction caused by the tremor should be reconstructed sustainably and focus on the quality and efficiency of the kilns. 

In just five months, with inputs from local brick experts, entrepreneurs, national engineers, scientist, and external reviews from international experts, the guideline ‘Design Manual for Improved Fixed Chimney Zig-Zag Brick Kilns’ was prepared and launched in September 2015.

After launching the manual, Mahesh Basnet, Minister, Ministry of Industry said he had high hopes for the reconstruction of the kilns with better design utilising modern technologies.

‘The Ministry of Industry will always seek to play a key role in the modernisation of brick kilns’, Basnet said.

During the launch programme, twenty brick kiln owners announced their intention to reconstruct their kilns using new designs from the manual. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the entrepreneurs of 12 kilns and FNBI was signed during the programme. It was agreed FNBI would provide owners an engineer to assist with reconstruction according to the manual with entrepreneurs responsible for their own investment. 

Ram Kaji Awale, owner of RK Brick Industry, Imadole said after his kiln was destroyed by the quake he was keen to rebuild using new technology and guideline. 

‘Without support from the organisations who have come up with the guideline, we wouldn’t have been able to reconstruct the kiln’, said Awale. 

The first five brick kilns constructed under the new guidelines baked their first batch of bricks in January 2016.  Raj Kumar Lakhemaru, owner of Swet Bhairab Fixed Brick Industry in Bhaktapur who was also involved in the development of the guidelines said the reconstructed kilns have improved the efficiency of brick production. 

‘Although it’s just been two months since we’ve started firing in the new kiln, the fuel consumption compared to the old kiln has been reduced by 10 to 15 per cent’, Lakhemaru said.