How long has been your connection with Japan?
Actually, all my academic background has been from former Soviet Union. I started earthquake risk management work a long time ago with the Department of Mines. However, I got the opportunity to directly get involved in earthquake risk work following the earthquake of 1988 which badly damaged eastern parts of Nepal. Although I read a lot of literature on Japan’s proven and tested seismic theories and technologies, my direct contact with Japan began in 1998 while visiting a Mico High School in Kobe.
What factors attracted you most in Japan?
Japan is the country in the world witnessing the highest number of earthquakes. It is also a country having the best technology and education on earthquakes in the world. They have not only developed technologies and theories but also implemented them. Japan is the best country in the world for learning seismological science or geological science. Japan has hundreds of records to know how earthquakes shake the land. Japanese have developed such a technological miracle that a fast running train perceives miles away the signs of seismic activities and automatically stops its speed before the earth begins shaking. This is a miracle. In Japan, seismic science and engineering are in action.
What do you like about Japanese earthquake management?
I am convinced that their earthquake risk management is very logical and proven through implementation starting from Great Kantu Earthquake of 1923. The powerful quake and ensuing tsunami that struck Yokohama and Tokyo traumatized a nation and unleashed historic consequences. They have records of all the earthquakes and they have translated every earthquake as an opportunity. They have developed earthquake resilient wooden carven technology with strong wooden joints. If you like our Pagoda styles temples in Nepal and the castle like Humingi, which is one of the three famous castles in Japan, they all are very similar in nature for me. I never studied my graduates and undergraduates in Japan, I am intrigued by psyche. After the Kobe earthquake, my enthusiasm grew faster to learn Japan’s earthquake technology. I landed there in 1998 to see the signature of Kobe earthquake. I wanted to know how they reconstructed the devastated city since there were so many places where earthquake had shaken badly.
Why are you so much interested on Japan?
I am interested to know how Japanese were doing things and how they maintained quality. There are so many other things that attracted me in Japan. Thus, I decided to pursue my Ph.D from one of the prestigious universities of Japan. There are also so many other sites in Japan to learn how to manage the great earthquakes and rebuild the country, the importance of early warning and preparedness and resilience for earthquake.
Who made your contact possible with Japan?
In 1998, I went to see Madhav Bhakta Mathema, who was serving in UN Habitat, and requested him to convey my proposal to then Nepalese ambassador to Japan Kedar Bhakta Mathema about my plan to conduct a half day workshop to present Nepal’s scenario. Ambassador Mathema accepted my request and allowed me to hold a half-day workshop in Nepalese Embassy in Tokyo. Ambassador Mathema invited many scholars and seismic experts from Tokyo. It was an icebreaking point in my career which helped me to establish relations with Japanese geologists and seismic experts. I had studied in Russia and I could not speak the Japanese language. But my quest to learn Japan’s geological and seismic studies helped me to complete my Ph.D. The Japanese seismic science is related to us. They also have Pagoda style temples and hills, they also love Buddha and as we do. We are in active seismic zone of Himalayas and they are at the Pacific. This attracted me.
When did you start your project with Japan?
After my first visit, NSET was a part of a project funded by Japan. Under the project, we studied seismic vulnerabilities of Kathmandu between 2000-2002. Headed by Japanese technical advisor Owe, the report predicted the possible big earthquake in Kathmandu. Professor Dr. Tsuneo Katayama, who is a world renowned earthquake engineer from Japan also supported us. He was the general secretary of International Association for Earthquake Engineering. He was a morale booster for me as he provided scholarship to my colleagues to do Ph.D in Japan. We have now two wonderful scholars Dr. Ramesh Guragain and Dr. Ramesh Pandey, who completed Ph.D from Japan in earthquake. We may not have money, but we have very good brains.
Why was Kobe your turning point?
When there was Kobe earthquake in Japan, we were here talking about Kathmandu earthquake. When I was in Kobe in 1998, I learnt a lot about how their hotels functioned, how people responded and how city officials and government responded in rescue. How they evacuated the people. We did not know about all these things. Japanese have a fairly good knowledge about pre-earthquake and post-earthquake situations. They have the entire plan there, what to do and how to do. They respond and learn. Even Kobe sent experts from hotel management and NSET conducted a workshop for hoteliers of Nepal on earthquake preparedness.
How do you see Nepal-Japan relations?
There are so many things going on, not only at the government-to-government level, but also a lot of work going on at people-to-people level, including NGOs-to-NGOs and academician-to-academician. In Japan, there are many people who like this to the extent that when United Nations World Conference on Disaster Reduction was held in Kobe, Hyogo prefecture, in January 2005, NSET was invited to establish stalls. We sent two masons from Bhaktapur and they constructed temples and small sheds as demonstration. These two Nepalese masons worked with the students and people of Kobe. Japanese people liked them. Even governor of Hugo prefecture of Japan visited out stall and praised the work of the two Nepalese mansions. Appreciating the work of Nepalese masons, governor of Hugo prefecture requested them to build demonstrative structures in his office area. This is how people-to-people contact is deepening our relations with Japan.
How did you build up NSET's relations?
Starting from 1998, NSET had an MoU with Japanese universities and professional exchange programs. NSET has international program with Kyoto University, Tokyo University, and DPRI and on the individual basis. We have very good relations with Ehem University. They understand us. We work with the professors and students of the university. Renowned Japanese Professor Kimiro Mequro still works with us. We work with Professor Kenji Okazaki. We have been working with several Japanese scholars, not only for Nepal but for other countries as well. We worked in India and Fiji with Japanese because they appreciate our work in the areas of school retrofitting. This is purely a collaboration with Japanese institutions and NSET. After the Gurkha Earthquake, world’s top concrete scientist from Japan, visited Nepal and shared his experience.
How about NSET's Relations with JICA?
With support from JICA, we did an actual push test of some houses in Nepal five years ago. We tested several different houses and retrofitted them. We did this as a fundamental scientific research. This research is done to know which kinds of houses will survive in which conditions. This is very cost effective. We need such help in Nepal in collaboration with institutions like JICA.
What is your expectation from them now?
I am expecting trucks mounted with earthquake simulator from Japan. The simulator is in each and every municipality of Japan, which is replaced every four to five years. If NSET has two such simulators, they will be sent to east and west of Nepal to generate awareness on earthquake. Such simulators will help teach preparedness on how earth is shaken by quakes and where to find the safe places. If JICA provides us three such simulators, we can use them to generate awareness in schools about earthquake. Instead of coming through the government agencies, JICA should also support the civil society sector.
How do you see the possibility of cooperation and collaboration with Japan?
There are immense possibilities for cooperation and collaboration with Japan in coming years, particularly at the civil society level. JICA must support the civil society along with the government.
Why do you say this?
Scientists from my institution and Ehme University of Japan have been doing many researches, collaborating with each other. Scholars like Professor Keni Okazaki, professor Ando, professor Katayama and several others have been working with us. This shows the level of our relations with Japanese NGOs. Many world class professors from Japan’s various institutions, including Tokyo University, have visited us. We respect them and in their honor we displayed their photos at NSET’s wall because they have helped us intellectually to enhance our capability in handling disasters, including earthquake. They all are in our hearts.
How is NSET’s relations with Japan in general?
We have a very strong relation with Japanese academic institutions. We were expecting a big earthquake like Gorkha Earthquake in Nepal and we were discussing the possible scenarios with Japanese scholars and experts long time before it really hit Nepal. After the earthquake, we realized that there is the need to do more collaboration with Japanese institutions because they have knowledge and technologies. We were lucky last time because nature saved us. The big one hit us on a Saturday afternoon when offices and schools were shut down for the holiday and farmers were in their open fields. Had the earthquake hit us at midnight, the loss would have been incalculable.
What does Nepal need now?
What is the state of Nepal’s science in seismology? In earthquake engineering? What tasks we have ahead after the Gorkha Earthquake. There are still a lot things to do. As a good friend of Nepal, Japan needs to support us. The interest shown by Japanese scientists was immense and goodwill shown by them was high. I alone met over 400 scholars, professors, researchers and students from Japan after Gorkha earthquake. Had not NSET worked with Japanese professors and institutions, we would not have been able to help the people. NSET has spent a huge amount of time in analysis and interpretation of the data, which we also shared with Japanese scholars and institutions.
How can Japan help us in reconstruction?
Japan can help us in reconstruction as they have better knowledge and proven technology. We have been working now with JICA in donor task force in National Reconstruction Authority (NRA). We have been working also through internet and other ways of communication with various Japanese institutions.
As Nepal and Japan are celebrating 60 years of establishment of diplomatic relations, what do you suggest for future collaboration?
As Nepal lies in the active seismic zone, there is the need to have more collaboration with Japan to share the knowledge and technology to prevent casualty in future in Nepal..
The infrastructure constructed under Japanese assistance prove that they are earthquake and disaster resilient. For example, the Gorkha earthquake has not damaged any buildings or infrastructure built by Japan. Despite several disasters in the past and recent Gorkha earthquake, Kulekhani Dam has proven its resilience against quake and disaster. Along with TUTH hospital, school buildings, agriculture research units and other buildings and newly constructed Banepa Bardibas road stood against earthquake. They are the testimony of how resilient a technology Japan has in view of earthquakes.
What do you want to see happening now?
Along with working at the government-to-government level, Japanese government also needs to support the civil society organizations in Nepal and work with them. They need to widen their areas and involve the people from civil society. As NGO, we have not received any scholarship from Japan government. As we are also contributing to the country, why should we be ignored?
In the last sixty years, Japan has been concentrating its support only at the government-to-government level. Given the changing circumstances, with so many NGOs working in Nepal, Japanese government needs to support us as well.
Why does Japan matter for you so much?
The research done by Japanese scientists should be accessible to Nepalese scientists. I started work in earthquake just after the earthquake of 1988. Japan is my model for the study. I have to accept the fact that Japanese education has contributed a lot to enhance my level of understanding of earthquakes. However, I received all scholarship and support from non-governmental sectors, including the universities and research institutes. My present level of confidence is the outcome of my interactions with Japanese.
How are you supporting Japan?
We have supported Japanese institutions with our knowledge. We have been doing informal programs to share our knowledge. We have good relations with Mico high schools. Every year students from Mico high school have been visiting Nepal. We organize programs. We are also collaborating with Japanese NGOs Kode, Shanti and Shfla Nir. We are bringing the message from the community of Japan. They come here to know about us. It is very difficult but we are keeping it. We discuss the issue like need to have preparedness. They share with the local people. We are doing confidence building. In Japan, engineering is used by people. In Japan seismology is not only in the research center, it is at the doors of people. That is what we want to teach our people. Our collaborations have shown that a very rich and technologically superb country like Japan can work with a poor country like Nepal in a dignified manner.
How do you summarize the relations of Nepal and Japan?
Nepal and Japan have very good relations at government-to-government level. There is no doubt about it. We all wish to see this. However, there is also the need to increase scientific collaboration with research institutions, universities and communities. We can replicate these programs in other countries as well. Our collaboration is at a very high level, mutual and regular, useful not only to Nepal but also outside. This is a model. Along with government to government level, there is also the need to enhance the relations at people-to-people level.