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19 Jun 2015 | Air pollution solutions

CCAC to support brick study in Nepal

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The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Central Nepal on 25 April 2015 and the more than 300 aftershocks that followed, including one of 7.3 magnitude on 12 May, had a devastating impact. Around 9,000 people in Nepal, India, China, and Bangladesh lost their lives and even more were injured. It has been estimated that 2.8 million people have been displaced by the earthquake and Nepal has incurred economic losses amounting to USD 10 billion.

Damage to infrastructure has also been severe with about 491,620 buildings fully damaged, 269,653 buildings partially destroyed, and 7,532 schools and 1,100 health facilities damaged   (ICIMOD Infographics- ‘Nepal Earthquake 2015’). Given the extent of the damage caused by the earthquake, it is clear that Nepal has a lot to repair and rebuild. Never before has the demand for bricks and other building materials reached such a high level. However, the existing brick kilns have been severely damaged. This combination of extreme circumstances raises a big question: How will the country meet the demand for bricks and other building materials and what are the opportunities to improve brick kilns in Nepal.

At the High Level Assembly organized by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) in May 2015, ICIMOD’s Senior Air Quality Specialist, Dr Prakash Bhave, talked about the aftermath of the Nepal Earthquake 2015 and informed that all approximately 110 kiln chimneys in the Kathmandu Valley have been broken. On top of this, kilns are also facing labour shortages. Workers at the brick kilns, who come mostly from outside Kathmandu, have left the valley due to the fear of subsequent earthquakes. Even before the earthquake, the Federation of Nepal Brick Industries Association said that brick production had dropped by 40%, due partly to erratic rainfall.
From an environmental perspective, there is concern that the number of kilns in Kathmandu may increase to meet the rising demand for bricks for reconstruction. This colossal demand and resultant rise in the price of bricks might even lead kiln owners to overlook environmental standards in kiln design, like the height of the chimney. The safety of workers may also be compromised in the rush to produce bricks, as some of the affected kilns are operating with broken chimneys.
On a positive note, the construction of new kilns and repair of damaged ones can be viewed as an opportunity to encourage kilns owners to take up new environmentally sound technologies. In addition, the scarcity of bricks has raised public interest in alternative construction materials. With these problems and opportunities in mind, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, in a press statement released during the High Level Assembly, announced that it will fund work on a feasibility study to rebuild the damaged brick industry in Nepal to increase kiln efficiency and reduce black carbon pollution. The study will also look at alternative building materials and earthquake safe construction practices.

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