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  Home :: Kutchch Earthquake

(Since NCPDP was overwhelmed with a large volume of activities in the aftermath of Kutchch Earthquake there was little time left to share its experiences with its well wishers during the first three years. So it is only now that we are able to do the needful.)

On January 26, 2001 when earthquake struck Gujarat, NCPDP was in its infancy. It was set up barely four months earlier as an outcome of brainstorming that was done towards the end of Latur Earthquake Safety Initiative to decide how we should continue our work on disaster preparedness. It was decided that an independent organization be set up that focuses primarily on disasters, especially earthquake.

  First Task

Soon after NCPDP was set up the city of Bhawnagar and its surroundings were shaken by a series of minor to moderate tremors in our own State, namely Gujarat. A few days of tremors created an unbelievable chaos and panic. The local district administration was swamped by barrage of questions and even anger of the local residents. For NCPDP it was the first challenge where it could put to use the six previous years of post disaster experience. With the cooperation of the local NGOs and the local administration NCPDP addressed several public meetings sharing its know-how and answering a multitude of questions. For many the tremors were an end of the world. For NCPDP it was an interesting exercise in panic control. The task was quite effectively carried out through the use of discussions aided by videos and slide shows. The focus was on reassuring the people through imparting a scientific outlook about the tremors and what it had resulted in to, what it all meant vis a vis the vulnerability of the buildings, and the safety of the people living them, and, finally, what the people could do to ensure their own safety in a future earthquake. Subsequently, under NCPDP’s guidance two houses were retrofitted and a few masons were trained. For the first time in Gujarat retrofitting became known to the engineers as well as to common people.

NCPDP later approached the government requesting it to take up an awareness and capacity building program, especially in Kutchch where based on a previously observed fifty year recurring cycle a major earthquake was imminent. But the priority of the government was different and soon it was all forgotten until barely three months later when the Kutchch Earthquake struck to become one of the most destructive earthquakes in the country.

  Kutchch Earthquake

The day the earthquake struck, NCPDP was positively the only organization in Gujarat with an extensive experience of post earthquake rehabilitation as well as the disaster mitigation. But for the scale and the impact on urban areas, the situation in the state was little different from the one that was observed in the aftermath of other earthquakes in the country. There was confusion and fear everywhere. This time the fear was also in the cities since never before the cities had witnessed such large scale destruction and death in the country.

  Immediate Actions – Reaching Out

As an immediate action NCPDP placed priority on helping people develop a scientific angle to the occurrence of this event and also helping them in getting some basic understanding of the degree of damage to their buildings, vulnerability resulting from that, and on the possible options available including repairing, retrofitting and reconstruction without going in to technical details. Some 10,000 copies of a single page leaflet in Gujarati language were printed on the fourth day of the earthquake and hand distributed through various channels including local grocery stores, NGOs, offices etc. The response to this simple leaflet was overwhelming. People made photocopies and distributed them. One individual even got our permission to reprint them. We believe that as a result of this collective effort nearly 30,000 copies got distributed.

Next, Rupal and I got access to Doordarshan, the government’s TV channel. Many householders get to watch only this since it is free of cost and reaches almost every village. We both were interviewed on the TV. Through this we were able to address, in most simple language, a large number of most commonly asked questions about earthquake including why they damage buildings, how the damage can be reduced, what action needs to be taken with the damaged building, how the vulnerability can be reduced against future earthquake through retrofitting, what happened in the past earthquakes in the country, what type of myths seem to prevail after a disaster etc. This half an hour interview was watched by a large number of viewers across the state, and we later learnt that it was greatly appreciated simply because most viewers were able to relate to the things we said. There was one more opportunity of reaching the masses when I and the Secretary of Road & Building Department of the Government of Gujarat were jointly interviewed on Doordarshan. At that time we were able to discuss the critical issues of rehabilitation program that the government was about to initiate.

In the first month and a half we were involved with The Action Research Unit (TARU), a New Delhi based group, in the task of damage assessment and evolving of disaster resistant technology packages for a Government of India agency called Building Materials and Technology Promotion Council (BMTPC). Because of this we had all the information concerning the problems with the local buildings and what could be done about that. Hence, we decided to share some of this information with the people on our own. As a result NCPDP published two small and simple booklets in Gujarati for a common man. One booklet was about the damage to commonly found buildings in the state, and repairing and retrofitting them to reduce their vulnerability against a future quake. The other booklet was about constructing new disaster resistant, affordable houses.

Once we had the printed materials ready by April 2001 NCPDP geared up to provide services to NGOs that wanted the masons trained in disaster resistant masonry construction as well as the retrofitting of the existing rural buildings, especially houses, in their area of operation. The objective of this service was also to promote retrofitting by making NGOs aware of such an option, as well as the need to preserve the existing buildings rather than demolish them as was observed in earlier disasters. Among those who organized hands-on mason training programs were Uththaan of Bhawnagar, SWATI of Surendranagar, and Bhansali Trust of Radhanpur. Through this process we were able to train a few hundred masons.

Since Latur earthquake in government rehabilitation programs the compensation amounts to a house owner has been attached in some way to the degree of damage to his house. It is, hence, important that the house owners understand for themselves what precisely the damage grading assigned to their house by a government engineers implies. Such understanding could also help people decide the type of action that needs to be taken. Hence, NCPDP prepared a Visual Damage Identification Guide and took it to the people for the first time in the country. This four page brochure used photographs of various types of damages to clearly convey to the people this abstract concept of damage identification.

Once the immediate relief was taken care of by the Government and other relief agencies, the most important problem on hand was of constructing the mid-term shelters in which the families whose houses were destroyed could live until that time when the new house is ready. The past experiences have shown that the people, typically, do not wait for assistance from outsiders in this aspect and quickly improvise something from the resources on hand. It has also been observed that many agencies move in to build such “temporary” structures. These structures often consist of prefabricated expensive structures made of metal, plastics and other ready to assemble components. Such initiatives simply do not take in to account the peoples’ own ability to do something to take care of their immediate problem, as well as the utility of such structures in long run. What the situation really demands is some information to make sure that the structure is disaster resistant, and is built out of materials that can be later recycled for building a permanent house. NCPDP published a four page brochure showing a simple concept of improvising a Disaster Resistant Midterm Shelter that acknowledged the peoples’ own ability to build out of locally available resources. Ten thousand copies were printed and distributed in the quake affected villages through NGOs. It was also placed on the website of TARU. It was widely observed that the prefabricated temporary shelters degraded in due course since it was not possible for the people to maintain them. Today one sees the remnants of such structures abandoned with no possibility of recycling.

  Important Breaks

At the time of the earthquake NCPDP had only fifty thousand rupees in the bank. With that we knew that we could pull on for a few months with thread bare staff of one engineer, working out of our apartment. Fortunately, within a couple of months another hundred thousand rupees or so got added through donations from friends in India and overseas. This gave us confidence that we would be able to last for more than a few months. Since we had no big grant we decided to offer services to NGOs in the form of training of their engineers and masons in disaster resistant construction as well as retrofitting in return for a reimbursement of some sort. In the process we worked with a few agencies and trained a few hundred masons. Within a few months Kabir Thakor, an architect friend, lent us a vacant apartment of his father in law at a nominal cost. By that time running the operation from our apartment had become unbearable. So this gesture helped bring back some sanity to our day to day life.

  Collaboration with GSDMA

In April 2001 we got the first important break. We were approached by newly formed Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority (GSDMA) for providing them certain special services. Our relationship with GSDMA was contractual. No grants were involved. Instead, we were paid for the given task based on the contract.

(a) Awareness Materials: The first was to design awareness generation packages that included ten posters, three brochures, two booklets and two videos. All this was for the dissemination of the disaster resistant building technologies. United Nations Development Program (UNDP) funded the production of these materials. These materials including approximately 50,000 copies of posters, 200,000 copies of brochures, and the videos, once ready were taken by the government to the inhabitants of over a thousand worst affected villages with the help of some 30 video vans of the government. This was history in making in India and we were an important part of it. These materials were extensively used through out the three years long rehabilitation program by the government as well as NGOs.

(b) Sensitization Programs: Next in July and August 2001 we organized for GSDMA a program of sensitization of the village level government functionaries in the disaster rehabilitation related issues. Workshops were organized at block level in 12 of the 15 worst affected blocks in five districts of the state. This program was also funded by UNDP. The program was intended to make the participants understand the importance of suitable building technology, and the type of mistakes that the people continue to make, and how they, as the representative of the government, could make people understand some of these issues.

(c) Engineer’s On-site Training: In August and September 2001 this sensitization program was followed by a program of on-site training of the government engineers who were specially posted to man the rehabilitation program. Engineers were trained in classroom in some theoretical aspects. But their work was going to be in the field most of the time doing things that they had never done before. Hence, it was critical to expose them to the ground realities of looking at a damaged building and deciding on what is to be done and how. They also needed to understand why such damage occurs. We were the only agency in the country having the necessary expertise. In the course of two months we carried out training of 1200 engineers at twelve locations across the quake affected regions. At each location a building had to be identified, its owner convinced and retrofitting work executed in a part of the building for demonstrating in front of the engineers and government functionaries, so that they are able to understand the things that are otherwise abstract to them. Incidentally, in three years ours was the only training program that was imparted on-site, just as it was in Latur back in 1994. Emphasis was also placed on the importance of the load bearing vernacular structures with load bearing masonry walls which constituted the biggest chunks of houses in the quake affected area.

(d) Capacity Building Program for Long-term Preparedness: From the issues raised by the engineers during their training program a new ambitious program evolved in January 2002 to prepare the village masons to execute the improved disaster resistant building technologies and to prepare the people to receive them. The program covered over 475 most severely affected villages in five districts of the State. It involved facilitating of the construction of a disaster resistant building that matched in looks with the other buildings in that village, installation of roof rain-water harvesting system on a public building, and retrofitting of a public building by the Village Reconstruction Committee. It also involved hand-on training of ten to fifteen masons in each village at these sites, thus training over 6000 masons in all, and helping evolve a Disaster Preparedness Brigade in each village through a series of meetings and discussions, which in future could lead the efforts of disaster preparedness in the village. The program was primarily funded by The World Bank with some funds coming from the Building Materials and Technology Promotion Council, Government of India. The budget of this program was Rs.7 crores (Rs.70 million or US$1.6 million). At the peak of the project with all other activities going on in parallel NCPDP had a team of nearly 120 engineers, social workers, supervisors and managers. The project ended in May 2003. It was, indeed, a path breaking project that brought forth valuable lessons for ensuring the success of the future disaster rehabilitation programs.

  Reconstruction & Retrofitting - Collaboration with Bhansali Trust

In May 2001 there was another important break in the form of Bhansali Trust of north Gujarat inviting us to provide them with technical support in various rehabilitation related activities. An understanding was evolved based on mutual trust under which the Trust would reimburse NCPDP for the expenses incurred in doing this work. The interaction with the trust had started within a couple of weeks of the earthquake. Through that it was convinced of the viability of retrofitting option. As a first step in May 2001 we helped them retrofit their school in Vauva Village of Santhalpur Block of Patan District. It was a two story school bigger than any thing that we had retrofitted till then. The process of retrofitting left the principal trustees of the Trust as well as the school Head Master fully convinced of the usefulness of retrofitting, reduction in their vulnerability and economy achieved. As a result two full school campuses located in Kutchch were retrofitted by them under our guidance. In the meanwhile Bhansali Trust also took up work of retrofitting over 600 Day-care Centres of the government under our guidance in three blocks of Patan District. The government had proposed to only repair these buildings. But the Trust was so convinced about the need to retrofit them that it decided to supplement government funds to meet the additional expenses.

Later the Trust took up the reconstruction of four villages, namely Sanva, Fulpara, Chitrod in Rapar Block and Sukhpar in Bhachau Block of Kutchch District starting in June 2001 using funds collected by it from all over the world supplemented by the government funds. This huge task included the total reconstruction including houses, infrastructure buildings, roads and services. NCPDP had found a believer in its own philosophy of doing these things in a participatory manner. NCPDP organized the interaction with the villagers to get their feedback for evolving the house designs as well as to evolve the neighborhood plans and neighbor selection plan. It was a long process that resulted in a village in which most everyone was happy about its location and its neighbors. NCPDP also designed the infrastructure buildings, roads, and drainage. The whole process was supported by on-site production of some of the critical materials to ensure good quality and desired pace. The reconstruction work ended in April 2004. The total budget of reconstruction was around Rs.30 crores (Rs.300 million or US$67 million).

Long before the village reconstruction ended Bhansali Trust was assigned the reconstruction of some sixteen schools situated all over Kutchch, and also the retrofitting of another 16 schools in far off corners of the District in February of 2003. This was funded by the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund. This was at a time when both, Bhansali Trust and NCPDP, were stretched to their limits with the work already on hand. Hence, NCPDP was keen to take the retrofitting work but not the reconstruction. Bhansali Trust took it more as a challenge and was keen to do both. As a result we too got roped in. Our task was to guide the Trust in all activities, help appoint the site engineers, and provide the overall project management support. Including quality control. Although, the total budget of all of it put together was Rs.7 crores (Rs.70 million or US$1.6 million), it turned out to be a lot more difficult project since unlike the village reconstruction, it was executed through tender. The modalities of billing and quality control were a lot more complicated. The geographical spread added a great deal to the complications.

  Shock Table Program

In September 2001 we were approached by United Nations Centre for Regional Development (UNCRD) – Kobe, Japan to take up a confidence building program of Shock Table Tests for the quake affected regions, similar to the one that we had done in Latur in 1995. Professor A.S. Arya was the technical consultant in this program. The program involved comparative testing of typical houses that are made by the people against the improved new houses of same materials, and also a retrofitted house on a platform that was built on rollers. Shocks were given with the help of a tractor and were recorded by a team of experts from Earthquake Disaster Mitigation (EDM) Centre of Kobe. In all four tests were conducted. Tests successfully demonstrated the effectiveness of the improved technologies. Each test was a public event attended by a few to several hundred people including masons, engineers, NGO representatives and government officials. This was the only program for which we received a grant. A 20 minute video of this program was prepared for large scale use. Later its video CDs were distributed in nearly 500 severely affected villages that NCPDP was interacting with. The CD has also been used by several NGOs in their awareness and training programs.

  Retrofitting of Public Buildings – Collaboration with BMTPC, Govt. of India

NCPDP had worked with BMTPC in the past on a number of occasions. BMTPC was keen to take up repair, retrofitting and restoration of public buildings, especially those damaged by the earthquake. The main purpose of this program was to demonstrate the viability of retrofitting as well as to train the local engineers and masons. Under this arrangement in October 2001 NCPDP retrofitted a 70 years old school building in the city of Ahmedabd, and later in April 2003 an office cum store of Road & Building Department of PWD in town of Patdi, in District Surendranagar. From November 2001 to January 2002 we worked on a 125 years old heritage building that housed government offices and its treasury vault in Rapar town of Kutchch. This was a unique opportunity that provided us with a new challenge. We had put to use all our understanding of the vernacular building systems as well as of retrofitting of the rubble masonry structures.


For us, Rupal and Rajendra, the founders and Honorary Directors of NCPDP the past three years in the aftermath of Kutchch Earthquake were markedly different from the six years that they spent in the aftermath of Latur earthquake. In Latur our role could be considered as that of activists to some degree. It was constructive but also confrontationist. Since, Latur was a first rehabilitation of its kind in the country there were things that aroused our passion resulting in to confrontations of some sort, mainly with the government. There, although, we worked, among other things, on the government rehabilitation program, especially for training the engineers and for retrofitting of some 150 houses, we had no success in collaborating with other NGOs.

In Gujarat, we adopted a path of non-confrontation. As a result there was much more collaboration with the government. It certainly resulted in to compromises at times. But we saw a quantum jump in our reach. In Gujarat the awareness materials prepared by us reached nearly 1500 villages in just one and half years compared to 125 villages in Latur in six years. The program on the line of the Capacity Building Program became possible mainly because of positive approach with the government.

In Gujarat our collaboration with a few NGOs could be considered effective and successful. There was a clear multiplication of the technical and social strength of NCPDP with the organizational and monetary strength of Bhansali Trust. The shear numbers of things that got executed within three years stand witness to this success.

Latur was a great learning ground of disaster rehabilitation and disaster mitigation for them. After six years in Latur we had clear vision of what a housing rehabilitation program should be like. But Gujarat experience, especially that with the rehabilitation of four villages and our observation of what the people were doing brought us to rather different conclusions. Gujarat also provided opportunities of doing things on a much bigger scale. And, it provided new lessons, especially in working with the government, and in retrofitting of a large variety of structures, small and big. Our convictions about the need for “a felt-need for safety against future disaster among the people as a basis for sustained mitigation” became stronger, and so did our conviction about the need for “a proactive role of the government in creating a felt need for skill up-gradation among the masons to ensure an overall improvement in the construction quality for vulnerability reduction”. Not withstanding the marked improvements from Latur rehabilitation, the Gujarat experience failed to make headway on both these accounts.

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