Demo man lends a hand


What is a former Queenstown emergency management officer doing in Nepal? Queenstown editor David Williams talks to Brenden Winder.

When the quakes broke Christchurch, Brenden Winder answered the call for help.

Now he has brought the skills he honed in that city’s demolition to Nepal.

If New Zealand needed international help after the Christchurch quakes, which killed 185 people, then it is no surprise the need is greater in landlocked, mountainous Nepal.

Last year’s quakes, in April and May, killed almost 9000 people and destroyed an estimated half a million houses.

Winder, a former Queenstown emergency management officer, formed a private company, The Recovery Team Ltd, to take up an international aid contract.

Over two weeks, his group of four trained 101 people, from Nepali security forces to police engineers and non-governmental organisation workers, in safe demolition techniques.

“Kathmandu is in pretty good shape,” Winder says, after returning from Nepal last month.

“Most of the buildings that were a risk to the public have been taken care of – pulled down or secured with fencing. You’re not going to find yourself in a dangerous building in Nepal.

“But there are lots of other buildings that are outside that ‘risk to public’ profile but still need to get demolished anyway.”

“Lots” of buildings is an understatement.

Nepal is about half the size of New Zealand but less than a fifth of its 28 million people live in cities.

That leaves many villages, which are hard to access, with seriously damaged buildings that still may not have been assessed by specialist engineers, more than a year after the quakes.

Winder’s blunt summary is: “There’s not much gear and it’s hard to get to where you need to be. In New Zealand, you’d drive your truck there, you’d do your demolition, you’d drive your truck away.

“Not the same in Nepal – up half a mountain, across 15 bridges, the bottom of seven valleys, to get to the one house in the village that needs to be done.

“Getting a piece of machinery there is just not going to happen. So a lot of their demolition will be done by hand or hand tools or other techniques.

“The difficulty in doing the demolition there is getting to the places.”

How long will all this take? Comfortably more than a decade, Winder says.

Gathering exact information is difficult and details from the country’s 75 districts are tough to cobble together when methods of reporting are “hard to line up”.

Understanding the exact numbers and pulling together a comprehensive plan will be extraordinarily difficult.

“Then actually executing that plan with limited resources and really difficult access is also difficult again. I think it would be fair to say that decades would be optimistic.”

He has experienced the Christchurch quakes, and because it is so hard recovering from an earthquake knows it is nice when people from elsewhere lend a hand.

Demolition experts deal with traumatised people, Winder says, and they need to be empathetic and sympathetic.

“How well that was translated into another language and another custom I don’t know.

“But we certainly tried our hardest and doing our best to let them know demolition is a tiny part of recovery. But the people that are getting impacted by that demolition are more important than the buildings that you demolish.

“And so there needs to be a degree of humanity or humanitarian understanding.”

His work in Nepal ranks highly among his emergency management experience.

Rewarding but challenging, he summarises.

It is fascinating to go to another country and see the differences in how they are coping.

The different cultures aside, he says the country is relatively poor and has little insurance.

The Government does not have have an Earthquake Commission or WorkSafe.

“They have a different approach to health and safety there, that’s probably the best way to describe it.”