How will a ground-breaking blood bank, made from shipping containers and using solar panels, save lives after earthquakes in Nepal?

Nepal’s capital Kathmandu is at high risk of being devastated by a major earthquake. Such a disaster could injure more than 300,000 people, and leave more than a million homeless.

This year the Nepalese Red Cross Society is building an innovative new blood bank with help from the British Red Cross, as part of a huge project helping the city and its people prepare for earthquakes. It will collect and store blood from the day it opens, ensuring a supply is available the second a disaster happens.

Ashok Nawani, British Red Cross logistics manager, says: “An emergency blood bank is essential. We’ve established there will be a huge need for blood after an earthquake.”

Unique design

The innovative two-storey blood bank will be the first structures in Kathmandu built using shipping containers. These steel boxes, originally manufactured to move cargo around the world, are cost effective and less likely to be damaged by earthquakes than brick or concrete buildings.

The containers are being attached to each other and then bolted to the ground to create a sturdy structure. The centre will include a waiting room and donation area, a laboratory with blood testing and screening facilities, and rooms where staff can sleep between shifts – in an emergency, they may not be able to return to their homes.

The blood bank under construction. ©NRCS

The blood bank under construction. ©NRCS

Solar power to beat supply problem

Kathmandu’s electricity is inconsistent at the best of times, and the city’s main grid suffers power cuts most days. There’s a strong chance an earthquake will knock it out completely. Ashok says: “In emergencies, the power is often the first thing to go out.”

But a blood bank’s fridges need electricity to run. That’s why the new design makes use of solar panels for a guaranteed source of power. These are being installed on the building’s south-east facing sloping roof, angled to catch as much of the sunlight as possible.

Batteries will be stored securely so they can withstand an earthquake without damage. The centre can also be run off the city’s main power grid, and will feature backup diesel generators too.

The innovative design aims to create a blood bank that’s resilient and reliable. Good quality spare parts, approved by the World Health Organization, can be bought from India – there’s no need to wait longer for replacements from Europe or the US.

The location of the centre, in the suburb of Lalitpur, is another strength – it’s next to an important road that connects many of the city’s key locations. It’s also within walking distance of more than one major hospital.

Decades of experience

The Nepalese Red Cross Society is the only humanitarian agency carrying out blood collections in Nepal. It has been running this service since 1966, and carries out collections in public squares, business, colleges and many other locations.

It also has a permanent blood bank next to one of the city’s hospitals. But the new, modern facility being built this year is much more likely to survive a major earthquake.

The new building building is set to open in December. Until then, the Nepalese Red Cross Society will continue with a host of other projects helping people in Kathmandu get ready for earthquakes – from street theatre with a lifesaving messages to training that helps builders create safer housing.