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Family ties connect Canterbury and Nepal disasters for UC earthquake engineer



When news of the Gorkha earthquake in Nepal reached Christchurch on 25 April 2015, the local Nepali community were understandably concerned – no one more so than Nepal New Zealand Friendship Society President and University of Canterbury Earthquake Engineering Professor, Doctor Rajesh Dhakal.


Nepali-born, Doctor Dhakal completed most of his academic study there, but has lived in New Zealand with his wife for the past 13 years where he has been heavily involved in earthquake research and response.


While it was hard being far from family in this time of disaster, Doctor Dhakal was thankful he could use his expertise and experience from the earlier Canterbury quakes to lend a hand.


“I was part of New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs team who spent 10 days assessing hospitals and government buildings, and answering questions from staff. With much of my family still living throughout Nepal, I stayed on for another nine months (May 2015-February 2016) to support the Nepali Government and Nepal Engineers Association with training, and to continue building assessments and policy-making,” said Doctor Dhakal.


Many parallels exist between the two quake events. Doctor Dhakal said it was rewarding to be able to help people using the lessons learned from Canterbury.


“We found that we could readily apply knowledge gained from the Canterbury quakes in some cases. Unreinforced masonry buildings are one example that caused a significant proportion of damage in both events. Using our experience in Canterbury, we could correctly advise the Nepali Government on the best way of evaluating and repairing these types of buildings.”


Non-structural damage – to objects inside buildings  was also apparent, especially in hospitals filled with expensive medical equipment. As a founding member of SPONSE (the International Association for the Seismic Performance of Non-Structural Elements) – which held their third international workshop at UC recently – and having focused his research around the way non-structural elements stand up during earthquakes for the past few years, Doctor Dhakal was well-placed to offer his advice.


Doctor Dhakal was recognised by the Prime Minister of Nepal and the Nepal Engineers Association for his role in the aftermath of the Gorkha Nepal earthquakes. He was presented with a certificate of honour at the 53rd Nepal Engineers Day in July 2015.












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