Kathmandu: Last year's massive earthquake in Nepal killed nearly 9,000 people, yet could have been much deadlier. It was spared not by disaster preparedness, but by the calendar.
It hit on a Saturday. Most children were out of school, and most adults were working in their fields, rather than in the hundreds of thousands of buildings that were damaged or destroyed.
The Himalayan country can't count on that kind of luck next time, but since it's in the middle of a highly active seismic region, it can count on another major quake at some point. Yet experts say Nepal and neighbouring India have a long way to go to implement earthquake-safe building practices.
Nearly a year after the disaster, Nepalese authorities have yet to announce new building codes. "I haven't seen any significant initiative or change that would help the next time," said Mattias Bryneson of the Plan International aid agency.
The government has said more than 8,000 schools were damaged or destroyed in last year's quake. Still, "similar types of schools are still standing in other parts of Nepal," Bryneson said. If a quake hit tomorrow and affected those areas, those schools could also collapse.
The next high-magnitude quake "is going to be a massive, huge disaster for Nepal," Bryneson said. Similarly, Nepal also faces the threat of quake-triggered landslides, of which there were at least 3,000 last year, burying villages, blocking roads and ruining farmland.
The 25 April 25 quake killed nearly 9,000 people in Nepal while damaging or destroying almost 800,000 homes. Another 102 people were killed on the Indian side of the border, where some 13,000 houses were badly damaged.
The Himalayas are result of smashing and buckling between the tectonic plates on which India and China sit. Since the
7.8-magnitude struck on April 25, 2015, in the central district of Gorkha, Nepal has been rattled by constant aftershocks.
Other quakes have hit nearby, most significantly a Jan. 4 rattler of magnitude 6.7 in the northeast Indian state of Manipur, and a 6.9-magnitude temblor on April 13 centered in the hills of neighbouring Myanmar.
Seismologists warn there are several places across the Himalayas that are overdue for a "big one," possibly much stronger than last year's quake. Some Nepalis are still afraid of moving back inside heavy buildings. Mahila Prajapati has lived with his family in a tin shed since their home crumbled in last year's quake, killing his uncle.
"I don't know if I will ever be able to move into brick-and-concrete house again. I saw many people crushed underneath piles of bricks. I still get nightmares," Prajapati said. When he does go into buildings, the first thing he checks for is stairways and exits.