Only one building in Bhutan retrofitted despite high seismic risk

Although Bhutan lies on a high seismic zone there is yet to be a concrete policy on retrofitting.
This has resulted in many existing buildings being unsafe for habitation.
Jojo’s building in Thimphu was the only building which was retrofitted with the help of Bhutan standard bureau (BSB), then called standard quality control authority (SQCA), as a pilot project.
Till date, no building owners have come forward to retrofit their buildings though 60 to 70% of the houses in the capital do not fulfill seismic requirements as per the basic rapid visual screening (RVS) conducted in the year 2005.
A senior official said that retrofitting is not catching up among the building owners since many buildings in Thimphu itself, are owned by people at the executive level and policy makers who are hesitant to incorporate retrofitting in their own buildings due to the high costs involved.
“Thus, they are actually putting the lives of their tenants who are already paying soaring rents at risk,” he added.
But BSB officials said that retrofitting is absent as a national policy since Bhutan has no trained retrofitters and faces a dearth of technical people.
BSB is in the process of demonstrating and creating awareness on the new technology including retrofit principles and benefits of earthquake resilient techniques.
On February 9 and 12, a training was conducted in Samdrup Jongkhar with the theme, “Quality control of infrastructural works and earthquake resilient construction process,” towards this end.
Soon the bureau will conduct similar trainings in Gelephu, Phuentsholing, Paro, and Bumthang and almost all other dzongkhags.
“We do need to have a policy for retrofitting standing structures. Basic principles of earthquake engineering are to save lives not the buildings,” said executive engineer for BSB Karma Wangdi adding that as a mitigation measure, the government needs to create ways to convince building owners to retrofit their structures.
According to Karma Wangdi, building owners at present presume that buildings built as per the building code are earthquake safe but it is impossible to have 100% earthquake-resistant buildings especially in Bhutan.
“BSB being an autonomous agency, without any national policy, can’t enforce or implement retrofit rule as mandatory.”
The executive engineer said that if ever the unsafe buildings need to be retrofitted, the concern has to come from building owners.
“Members of parliament should table this issue and come up with a policy.”
Even if a policy is formulated, financial institutions should be directed to lower interest rates for renovating a house (13%) and for constructing a new house (10%), he said.
“Actual retrofitting would not cost much. The high cost to retrofit the pilot project was caused mainly due to addition of two storeys along with an attic which required reinforcement from the base.”
Karma Wangdi stated that if the cost for retrofitting is between 15 to 20% of the total cost of the building a structure then it’s viable to retrofit, if not the owner can reconstruct the building.
According to Gasa MP Damchoe Dorji, to have earthquake resilient structure at the epicenter is almost impossible.
“No one can predict where the next earthquake will strike but this technology can will save a lot of lives,” he said.
Karma Choki, a tenant echoed the opinion of many others when she said that “as a mitigation measure, we need to have earthquake resilient houses and we definitely need a policy to enforce this”.

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  1. Please check your facts. I heard it is the building next to Jojo’s belonging to a former Thimphu Thrompon and who is now working under MOWHS. ADB loan funds were supposedly used by SQCA to support retrofitting of a private building belonging to a staff of their own ministry. The staff is also supposed to be related to Zhabtog Lyonpo.

  2. Some of the facts I have stated in my earlier comments may not be correct. So, I would like to withdraw my earlier comments.

  3. It would be appreciative if concerned agency could shown on TV as a programme with animation how retrofitting is more advantageous in saving the lives which of-course is building too. How it can be done and from where it be done in old buildings… many ideas then may crop up wherein the at the present 20-30% actual cost can be brought down.

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