Earthquake Reconstruction: Shortage Of Material

Practical Action studies show shortage of materials hampering reconstruction

May 7, 2017, 10:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: VOL. 10, NO. 18, May 05- 2017 (Baisakh 22, 2074)

As reconstruction of homes, destroyed by the 2015 earthquakes, picks its pace, a short supply of construction materials has been conspicuous in many places. Yet credible reports about the situation were lacking until a recent study by Practical Action South Asia.

Practical Action conducted a study in Nuwakot and Rasuwa mainly focusing on the demand and supply sides of the construction materials required to accelerate the reconstruction drive in the two districts.

The study, Supply Chain Management of Construction Materials in Earthquake Affected Districts, reveals huge gaps in the demand and supply sides. The project started in June 2016 and will continue till May 2018, including 4 months of the inception period.

"Over 650 thousand houses in 14 districts are awaiting or undergoing reconstruction. However, a smooth availability of affordable reconstruction materials has still remained uncertain. While the gap in demand and supply of the construction materials is alarming, a robust supply chain management strategy seems to be of utmost priority in the present context so as to create a smooth environment for the supply of construction materials. Practical Action has conducted an assessment of the overall demand and supply situation of reconstruction materials in Nuwakot and Rasuwa districts," said Achyut Luitel, Regional Director, Practical Action. "The study has identified major issues around the construction materials and recommended probable measures to address them."Practical Action 1.jpg

The Practical Action report noted: "Besides the demand and supply gap, ensuring the quality of the construction material is a major concern. Majority of households are ignorant about the quality of the local materials. The influx of the substandard non-local materials during the relief phase has also raised concerns regarding the quality of non-local materials."

In 2015, earthquakes caused widespread destruction in Nepal leaving behind 650,453 damaged and destroyed houses in 14 districts, which were in need of reconstruction (CBS, 2016).

Reconstruction of the houses and the community infrastructure require massive amount of the construction materials. The demand and supply gap is more pronounced in local materials like sand and timber.

Funded by the UK Aid, the UK government, the study team included Dr. Sujan Piya, Rabindra Bahadur Singh, Chhabin K Magar, Trishakti JB Rana and Prof. Dr. Devendra Bahadur Chhetry.

According to the study, there was a demand of 21.19 million metric tons of local materials like stone but the supply was only 2.56 million metric tons.

Similarly, there is a huge gap in supply of non-local materials like cement, brick, CGI Sheet and Reinforcement.

With an aim to help NRA to replicate the project success cases in other districts, Practical Action studied 50 thousand households in Nuwakot and Rasuwa districts, providing advisory support at the national level. The objective of the study was to strengthen the chain of construction materials, with an output to reduce the demand and supply gap, while improving the quality, reducing price and boosting coordination.

The high price of construction materials, mainly the non-local, is a cause of concern. The production cost of the materials is already high due to high dependency on the imported raw materials, shortage of skilled labor and the power shortage. On top of it, the transaction cost is huge. A bag of cement, which cost NPR 630 at the factory in Birgunj is sold at NPR 890 in rural VDCs of Nuwakot. The exorbitant transportation fare is the major contributor for the transaction cost.

To address the above constraints, Practial Action has been implementing an UKaid funded proect, on strengthening the supply chain of the construction materials. The project aims at ensuring the timely availability of the quality construction materials at the competitive prices. It has been mobilizing the local cooperatives for aggregating the demand for construction materials from the house owners and collective procurement of the materials on their behalf. CPN-UML2.jpg

The early results show that the earthquake victims can save 8-12% of the cost (about Rs. 90,000 per house) by the demand aggregation. In the normal market, the construction materials change hands seven times, before reaching the customers. By aggregating the demand, the consumers have direct access to regional suppliers or factories, which has resulted in reduction in the transaction cost.

For reducing the stress on the conventional materials and providing the poor households with affordable alternatives, the project is promoting alternative construction materials. Compressed Earth Block (CEB) is one of such alternative materials. It constitutes local earth, sand and small quantity of cement (10%). It cost less than the fired blocks and require less labor and cement mortar to build houses, with per square meter of wall built with fired brick costing around Rs. 3500 whereas the same costing half (Rs. 1900) with CSEB.

Likewise, it has been introducing simple technologies like stone cutting machines and wood treatment plants for improving the quality of the construction materials. A simple stone cutting machine, which cost around Rs. 120,000 reduced the cost of through stone/corner stones by more than half. Through stones and corner stones are mandatory in the government approved stone masonry buildings. A labour can prepare maximum 6 corner/through stones in a day manually. The machine can produce up to 200 pieces of corner stones.

A simple one-story house requires more than 150 corners and through stones, which would cost around $300, if prepared manually. However, with the machine, the cost can be reduced to $100. The treatment plants help to improve the strength of the locally available woods.

As the reconstruction picks speed, ensuring the quality of the construction materials at competitive prices is going to be a major challenge. Hence, the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) requires a robust strategy to address the challenge. The results and learning of the project can of help for the government while it formulates the strategy.

The study indicates change in peoples' preference of building types following the earthquake. However, the stone masonry in mud mortar is likely to continue as the predominant building type for reconstruction. About 55 per cent households are planning to construct stone masonry buildings in mud mortar. Before the earthquake, more than 80 per cent of the buildings were stone masonry in mud mortar. Another, 12 per cent are planning to build stone masonry buildings in the cement mortar. About 26.4 percent buildings are likely to be the brick masonry in cement mortar.

However, the figures vary with the accessibility of the areas. In accessible areas, majority of houses (52%) are likely to be brick masonry in cement mortar. On the other hand, in less accessible areas, more (79%) are likely to be stone masonry in mud mortar. Corrugated Galvanized Iron (CGI) sheet is the most popular roofing material, irrespective of the areas, with 81% of households preferring it.    

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