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  • More disastrous for the poor; the Earthquake is unjust

    Swarnima Shrestha

    May 21st, 2015

    The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Nepal on April 25 and the major aftershock of 7.3 on May 12 did a lot of harm in Nepal. The loss of lives, homes and heritages; and the constant fear of losing what is left; has put the whole nation in despair. People are in the state of trauma, with many in serious state of fear and stress. The busy streets of Kathmandu are deserted, small and large businesses all closed down. And it is already almost a month of the first quake.
    The whole disaster has caused a serious damage to the already struggling economy of the country. And the ones who are hit the worst are (always) the most marginalised; the poorest of the poor people. The people who earn their living on a daily wage basis, the ones who already had very little, now are left with nothing.
    The (informal) waste workers in Kathmandu valley are among the most marginalised people. They lived in the most vulnerable parts of the city; in the river banks, renting the oldest of the houses. Thus, they have suffered more loss than the rest of the population. Most of the waste workers from the neighbouring country India, have gone back to their own country. The Nepali waste pickers are mostly from the districts like Sindhupalchowk, Dolakha and Kavre which has been hit more badly than Kathmandu, leaving them no option to go back to their hometowns.

    Tents at Waste Transfer Station, Teku, Kathmandu, where waste workers are taking shelter.

    Tents at Waste Transfer Station, Teku, Kathmandu, where waste workers are taking shelter.

    “My house at Kavre is totally damaged by the earthquake and so is my rented room here in Kathmandu”, says Thuli Maya Tamang (35), a waste segregator who has been living in a makeshift tent made of tarpaulin.
    More than hundred other waste workers like Thuli Maya who lived around Teku area of Kathmandu are now living under tarpaulins in the premises of Waste Transfer Station at Teku, Kathmandu. They are living just by the side of heaps of waste; with no option to move to a better open space. They do not have access to better open spaces, as the people from other (better-off) communities are unwilling to share the space with them.

    As most of the waste workers worked in daily wage basis or were dependent on the waste they collected every day, their earning has suffered a lot due to this disaster. They were not able to work for many days due fear and now they cannot work even if they want to because the ‘Kabaads’ (Scrap house) where they used to work are closed.
    “It is difficult to keep the family fed, as we cannot find any work. And I am so scared that I don’t think that I can work for few more days,” says Thuli Maya.
    They have not received any aid or support from any organisation apart from the support of tarpaulins from PRISM project staff on a personal basis. “We have heard that the earthquake victims are getting relief materials but we haven’t received any yet,” says Thuli Maya.
    Gautam Lama (50) is worried about finding a proper space to live after the aftershock gets reduced. “My house at Kavre is totally damaged. The rented room here has many cracks and is not in a liveable condition. I don’t know how I will be able to find a new place to live, as people were already sceptic about renting rooms to us poor people even before the earthquake,” Gautam shares his woes. Finding a space in Kathmandu will definitely be a challenge to these people as a huge number of houses are damaged and renting spaces are already difficult to find.
    Gautam’s daughter Samjhana’s (25) rented rooms at Balkhu, Kathmandu crumbled down into pieces due to the first quake. She feels lucky just to get outside of it in time with her 11 month old baby. “I could not take out anything from the house. Don’t even have clothes for the baby,” says Samjhana who used to be a waste segregator and is currently living with her parents at the transfer station at Teku.

    Samjhana, in front of her shelter with 11 month old daughter and 3 year old son.

    Samjhana, in front of her shelter with 11 month old daughter and 3 year old son.

    Maya Tamang, who works at the co-operatives run by the waste workers, shared that children are suffering a lot due to living outdoors. “Children have started to get sick with cough and cold, as it gets cold in the night time. Rain creates more difficulty, so does mosquitoes, other insects and also snakes,” says Maya.
    Maya opines that the only thing that has helped them survive during the past few weeks is the ‘Sanyuta Safai Jagaran’ co-operative which started operation with the support of the PRISM project and is being run by the efforts of the waste workers themselves. “Thankfully, we had been saving regularly in the co-operative. Most of the waste workers are using the saved amount to run their lives in this time of crisis. We would have been left hungry, if not for the co-operative,” Maya adds. “But it is still difficult for most of the families. I have no idea how we all will be able to find a proper shelter and for how long will we have to live under the open sky.”
    Disasters like earthquake harm everyone; but it certainly affects the poor more severely.
    As the world starts to forget about this disaster in Nepal and its coverage slowly starts to fade from the world media, there are thousands of people like Thuli Maya, Gautam and Samjhana who still need help and assistance to build back their lives.

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  • More people grid-connected, but is that energy access?

    Monday (18th May) saw the first release of the summary of the World Bank’s new report on Progress Toward Sustainable Energy – Global Tracking Framework 2015 at the Sustainable Energy for All Forum in New York.

    The report measures how the world is progressing toward Sustainable Energy for All, tracking country-level indicators for energy access, renewable energy and energy efficiency. The headlines are that between 2010 and 2012 we made good progress in terms of access to electricity access (up from 83% to 85%). In clean cooking, the figures hardly changed at all (from 58% to 59%).

    Energy Access Tiers, Kinshasa, GTF summary report pg 32

    Energy Access Tiers, Kinshasa, GTF summary report pg 32

    What may go un-noticed is the section towards the end about how “traditional methods for measuring energy access significantly underestimate the scale of the challenge”. They illustrate this with findings from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. Just counting electricity connections says nothing about the quality of that connection. So for Kinshasa, it shows that although the majority (90%) of residents are officially grid-connected, they are hugely under-electrified. “There are extensive limitations in hours of service, unscheduled blackouts and voltage fluctuations. The reality is that the streets of Kinshasa are dark on most nights and that few households can actually use the electrical appliances they own.” A fully-functioning grid connection should be rated ‘5’ – at the top of the scale. But in Kinshasa, only 0.5% of the population enjoy this level of quality, and 41% have access at Tier 0 or Tier 1 meaning they have electricity for less than four hours a day with 1-2 hours in the evening.

    How many of the 6.2 billion people with an electricity connection on the planet remain ‘under-electrified’? Anecdotal evidence indicates the problem is widespread.

    There are few studies, but findings from our work applying these same tier levels to examples of grid-connected, but remote villages in India and Kenya found a similar pattern (Practical Action Consulting: Utilising Electricity Access for Poverty Reduction). None of the households we surveyed there made it to Tier 3 levels of access which we are arguing is a reasonable cut-off point along these tiers for saying that a person has sufficient energy for it to be truly enabling. Of course, for them to take full advantage many other things would need to be in place, but its absence limits people’s ability to climb out of poverty.

    Energy Access Tiers from Practical Action Consulting research Kenya and India

    Energy Access Tiers from Practical Action Consulting research Kenya and India

    At the same time, counting grid connections ignores the improvements in electricity access brought about through mini-grids, solar-home systems and other off-grid solutions. There remains the unspoken perception that these are a ‘second-best’. However, our findings from India and Kenya show that against some parameters, they are as good as the grid (for example in terms of duration / availability) and on others in particular reliability, they out-perform. The measure of reliability is whether there are more than three unscheduled outages per week of more than 30 minutes each. In 2012, the blackouts in India were widely reported highlighting some systemic problems which will be difficult to overcome.

    Tiers for hours of available energy for grid compared to mini-grid in Kenya

    Tiers for hours of available energy for grid compared to mini-grid in Kenya

    Practical Action, along with a coalition of 21 other civil society organisations is calling for this proposed framework for measuring energy access to be adopted globally as part of the Sustainable Development Goals due for approval in the autumn this year. This is because it provides a more accurate picture, and will help put off-grid solutions on a similar footing to grid-extension.

    The World Bank’s full report (due for release in June) also includes agreed frameworks for measuring energy access not only for households but also for productive uses and community facilities – giving a properly rounded picture of the energy access needed for development. This took its cue from Practical Action’s Total Energy Access framework, as elaborated in our Poor People’s Energy Outlook. The insights gained from measuring in this way will be essential for assessing the full range of poor people’s energy needs and deserves greater attention.

    Source: ODI and Oxfam America

    How are these findings reflected in financing in the energy sector? Unsurprisingly, as this excellent infographic from ODI / Oxfam America shows for sub-Saharan Africa, business-as-usual is continuing. The grid (and industrial power) continues to be prioritised over extension to those currently without, and over off-grid solutions. Cooking remains a neglected sector even though the investment needs are lower. This is what needs to change if we are to meet our goal of meaningful, truly enabling energy access for all by 2030.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Source: ODI and Oxfam America

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  • Relief supplies arrive in Dhading, Nepal

    Amanda Ross

    May 15th, 2015

    Following the earthquake on 25th April, Practical Action’s Nepal team  has been working hard to help some of the devastated communities in Gorkha and Dhading.

    Distributing relief in DhadingWe’re focusing on:

    • Water treatment (to reduce deaths by disease, especially in infants)
    • Emergency shelters (for homes, and public facilities e.g. toilets)
    • Energy generation (lighting and heating, including for medical centres)
    • Solar communication technology (for mobile phone charging)

    Please help us deliver this help by donating to our appeal.


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  • Now is the time to stand against food adulteration


    May 15th, 2015

    They say, “You are what you eat.” For me, it means, the food I eat shapes my health and behaviour.

    Let me describe it briefly. Food gives you energy through providing vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients. All these ingredients keep you physically fit or unfit. When you feel physically fit, you are okay with your everyday life – work, sleep, etc. But what happens when your stomach is upset? You get physically ill, that leads you to be mentally disturbed. Your mental disturbance reflects on your behaviour – you get irritated, lose patience, and in the end, you lose your ability to work. Often for a shorter time, sometimes for longer, and could be for a lifetime.
    _MG_7218Let’s take a look on what we the Bangladeshi people eat normally: rice, dahl, vegetables, fish, meat, fruit, etc. I could make this list longer, but for the average Bengalis, these items are common. Although, as far as fruit is concerned, we are not that big “fruit eaters.”

    Fruit comes on to our plate, mostly seasonally. Other than banana, coconut, papaya, guava, and some insignificant fruits, most of our fruits are seasonal. However, you can find imported fruits round the year.

    Bangladeshi fruit-months are approaching. The Bengali month “Jyeshtha” (second month of Bengali year; and mid of May) regarded as the “Madhu Mash,” means the month of honey. Honey, because of the sweet fruits, we are going to eat this month and the following one-two months.

    Every market along with supper shops and roadside makeshift shops will be flooded with many different fruits: mango, jackfruit, blackberry, litchi, pineapple, plum-seed, variety of melons, and many other fruits. The month is also a festive month in the rural Bangladesh. Grooms are often invited to visit their in-law’s houses. Friends send fruits as a gift. Even sometimes, fruits like special quality mango (from Rajshahi; north-western division) and lychee (from Dinajpur; also northern district) are given as a bribe instead of money.

    But what do we eat with our fruit?

    formalin-kitThis is a really big question for the last couple of years. For most of the roadside shops, fruits are adulterated. They apply carbide for early ripening and formalin for longer shelf life. 

    When I say “they,” it’s not necessarily the shop keepers or fruit sellers. Sometimes, at source, during harvesting, carbides and formalin are applied. It’s an open secret for us, but no significant steps are taken to stop this. I must say, adulteration does not go only with fruits, but with many kinds of foods.

    Do the Bangladeshi people aware of this not eat fruit?

    Funny question indeed. But the fact is: we pay more, sometimes double than the normal market price, to buy fresh fruit/food. There are some shops, especially in the big cities, that sell unadulterated fruit and food.

    Should this be the solution?

    I must say “no.” it’s a human right for everybody to eat safe food at a reasonable price. To be healthy, both physically and mentally is needed by all.

    As a Practical Action staff member, I feel that we should do something about this. With our Food, Agriculture and Markets programme, in Bangladesh, we could innovate an affordable technological device that would help people to test their food/fruit to see whether it is adulterated or not. I know that there is a formalin testing machine out there somewhere. We need to take initiatives to make this machine available for the commoners. We also could take part in the campaign against food adulteration to raise awareness. If necessary we should have a fresh study on it, and start policy influencing work as soon as possible.

    In the beginning, I was saying that the food you eat shapes your behaviour, but if the food, you eat kills you, you are beyond behaviour. Should we wait until then?

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  • Hard work pays off for Himalaya community

    It was not an easy job for the communities benefitting from the Himalaya Micro Hydro Scheme, in Zimbabwe’s Manicaland province, but their sweat will soon yield results.

    The Himalaya project started in 2011 under the Rural Sustainable Energy Development in Zimbabwe (RUSED ) project which is being implemented by Practical Action and Oxfam. On 8th April 2015 the project was officially opened by the Minister of Energy and Power Development in Zimbabwe, Dr.Samuel Undenge. This has indeed marked a new era for the community of Himalaya situated 35 km from the city of Mutare in Manicaland province in Zimbabwe.Commissioning

     “I have been waiting for this day since day one, and today it has been made possible. I am so happy with all the progress that has been made so far. Our hard work has finally paid off. This official commissioning is a blessing from the government of Zimbabwe we can now start working on producing results,” said an ecstatic Constance Mawocha, a 54 year old Himalaya resident.

    Access to electricity by rural Zimbabwean small-scale agricultural communities is very low as electricity is largely confined to the energy-intensive sub-sectors of commercial and industrial enterprises as well as high-income urban households. The only power utility company, Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) has suffered immensely under the current global economic recession and the Zimbabwean economic meltdown since 2000 and is struggling to deliver on its mandate. It has thus not been able to provide a constant electricity supply to urban areas let alone scale up the rural electrification programme, which has managed to supply less than 25% of rural communities with electricity.

    IMG-20150430-WA0012For the Himalaya community having access to electricity was a fantasy. The area is located in a mountainous area and is very far from the national grid. Having seen the predicament of most rural communities in Zimbabwe, two international development organisations, Practical Action and Oxfam with funding from European Commission saw the potential for addressing the energy poverty using the abundant water resources and feasible terrains through facilitating the establishment of hydro- electricity mini grids.

    This Himalaya micro hydro system generates 80kw and 150kw of electricity at full capacity. The electricity generated at this scheme will be used to power an irrigation scheme, a grinding mill, a saw mill to process timber, and an energy centre which houses a hair salon, lantern charging kiosk and refrigeration just to mention a few.

    Grace's dreams being fulfilled

    “As women we have been empowered, I can’t wait to buy my electric machine and start sewing clothes for sale. I enjoy farming and the coming of electricity has made our farming very easy, from the training that we have had I am now taking farming as a business and this will come to reality with the electricity in use. Also I have 6 children and 8 grandchildren that I live with meaning I have to frequently visit the grinding meal so that I put food on the table for these little kids. Before this was so difficult for we had to travel quite long distance to get our maize pounded. But now I walk less than 500m to get my mealie meal and I am so grateful.”  Grace Muyambo 45.

    The coming of electricity also meant diversified possibilities for value addition in agriculture and agro-processing.

    “We used to lose a lot of fruits and vegetables whenever there was a glut due to absence of refrigeration facilities but now the shelf lives will improve for usually perishable goods. Besides that, the social life of families is going to improve since we will be connected to the global village through the Television and internet.” said Eutias Chirara secretary of the Himalaya Micro Hydro Association.

    The people of Himalaya may well celebrate, this was not an easy job. Men and women worked so hard to achieve the progress to date. Women assisted by carrying stones, river sand, cement, and digging of irrigation canals. Men were responsible for carrying heavy penstock pipes , laying the electricity grid and all other hard work.

    ”I almost gave up because the work was so hard, but as  a community we had told ourselves that the project belonged to us and we had to contribute in any way we could so that we see the results. Here we are today, we are so happy to have reached this day and celebrate with the whole of Zimbabwe,” said Eutias Chirara secretary of the Himalaya Micro Hydro Scheme.

    Once the project is completed communities in Himalaya will be able to use of the energy, to improve their livelihoods and therefore ability to pay and sustain the scheme through various enterprises.

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  • People prioritise community infrastructure


    May 11th, 2015

    Together with the Rapid Assessment Team of Practical Action, I recently visited Salyantar VDC of Dhading District, which is one among the most affected districts from the recent earthquake. As I transected into the villages, I recalled my memories back from 2008, during which I was directly involved in supporting biogas plants, constructing a high-school building and development of drinking water system through a project funded by the German Government. There were many known faces that had lost their loved ones and their property. I wanted to go closer to them, talk and ask the kind of support they expect from organisations like us in this difficult situation. Somehow, I felt that many of them wanted to smile back and thank as we were with our team to distribute relief items for them.


    Food items supported by Practical Action in Salyantar VDC

    A gentleman in his early 50s, named Babu Krishna Shrestha, came closer to me and said “What really hurts of all are the schools and health facilities that have been destroyed. It will take years to construct our schools, and unless this happens, our children will not forget the earthquake and this devastation”. Further discussing with him, I found that he lost his wife in this disaster who was also the Principal of Salyantar Higher Secondary School. I was greatly shocked – he was the husband of the woman I worked with eight years back to construct this school. I still remember her hard work and dedication during the entire period of construction. She greatly believed that the drop-out rates could be reduced provided an attractive school environment including infrastructures. She was strong with her arguments that poor infrastructures lead to poor student behaviour and conduct in the classroom, affects teaching learning environment, and weakens the health of children. She is no more, but I strongly feel that her arguments are highly valid. Our assessment team observed this together with many other schools in Salyantar VDC that have either been completely destroyed or require immediate renovation.


    Inner view of Salyantar Higher Secondary School

    Assessing further, we found that the only Primary Health Care Centre (PHC) of Salyantar VDC is also damaged. The buildings have bigger cracks making the patients vulnerable. Emergency patients are being treated in tents while other regular patients are attended through an emergency desk just outside the PHC. As mentioned by the Health Assistant Mr. Shambhu Poudel, there were 6 delivery cases in 15 days after the earthquake. The pregnant women were kept outside until the final labor, taken inside the building for delivery and shifted outside again after the delivery. Just imagine, how risky is it for both the mother and her baby inside such building? Equal is the risk of infection to both of them after delivery.

    Having the situation of community infrastructures observed, I no longer felt it necessary to ask people about their expectations. It is clear that people have more sentiments towards the community structures like schools, health posts and drinking water services. Of course, they want their children to have quality education and health care when in need. Practical Action is committed towards promoting small, light and economically feasible infrastructures/technologies in post-disaster situation and help people rise from this disaster.


    Beds for patients in Salyantar Primary Health Care Centre


    Please join us and be part of this support. Visit us at

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  • Road to recovery after #NepalQuake

    Achyut Luitel

    May 8th, 2015

    I have witnessed some of the most notorious disasters and insurgencies in the recent times. The Operation Blue Star conducted in Golden Temple in Amritsar, India in 1984 was the first one when I got stranded for a week in Kashmir and luckily got a special train to leave Jammu for Delhi. For the first time in my life, I had seen violence and curfew.

    The same year I witnessed the Bhopal gas tragedy, while I was a second year engineering student in the same town. I was lucky to get unaffected, but have seen the climax of people being affected after methyl isocyanate leaked from the Union Carbide pesticide plant. I volunteered in the local hospital for a couple of days, and saw how people were dying and how mass cremation was being held without being able to consider their religious faith. Just a month earlier, I had witnessed brutal attack on Sikh communities following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.


    Districts most affected by the earthquake (c) Kathmandu Living Labs

    However, the big earthquake which rocked central part of Nepal on 25 April 2015 is hard to explain. I was with my wife and daughter at home. Just before noon, the house started shaking brutally. My wife screamed and tried to run outside but I stopped and without any thinking, we all entered an adjacent room. I advised to calm down and asked to duck, cover and hold down near a big wooden cupboard thinking that it will be strong enough to protect us. Unfortunately the cupboard fell above us ramming my wife’s hand and daughter’s leg, but by chance my back came in between and prevented major injuries to them.

    We expected that it will stop in a while. But the tremor which was swinging from west to east occasionally started rotating and continued for two minutes. Never in my life have the two minutes been so long. My wife was literally crying thinking that we all will die. My daughter tried to console her saying it will be okay, we will be fine. I thought I was quite strong and kept telling to calm down. Once the tremor stopped, we rushed outside in an open ground where our neighbours were already there. We started looking around. The boundary wall of one of our neighbors had collapsed, while another neighbour’s house had multiple cracks. We stayed there for an hour or so. The aftershock kept coming in every 5 to 10 minutes. We tried to call our close relatives. Fortunately the phone was working for post-paid mobile numbers and we could get ‘survived’ news from some of our close relatives.

    Durbar square destroyed

    Kathmandu Durbar Square after the earthquake

    My parents were in the US but my wife’s parents were in Kathmandu living nearby us. Being worried about them, we closed the main door hurriedly and walked to their house. Surprisingly very few houses were damaged nearby, but we started getting stark images of our heritages like Dharahara and Durbar Square ruined to rubble through Twitter. We came to know that the quake’s magnitude was 7.9 Richter scale. My in-laws were also safe and had assembled in an open area together with their neighbours. We joined them and started taking stock of other relatives. I was speechless when one of my cousins told me that his brother died while he had gone to attend a meeting in a commercial complex near Kalanki in Kathmandu. My legs shivered and just could not hold off. My cousin who died was very close to me. We grew together in a joint family and lived happily for many years since my childhood until I got married. I just cannot explain the condition of his body when recovered from the complex. I had to helplessly witness his funeral and his family members. That was one of the most shocking pains in my life.

    Immediately after the weekend, we tried to behave normally by coming to the office and discussing with the colleagues on how we, the fortunate ones to survive, should help the victims, who lost their families and houses. Although Practical Action is not a relief organisation, we decided to work on relief and response. Our Head Office immediately decided to give us GBP 100,000 to initiate necessary response and recovery works. Our staffs who were all fortunate to survive together with their family members decided to contribute at least one week’s salary to the earthquake victims. That too was a big money amounting Rs 17 Lakh, equivalent to 11,000 GBP. Practical Action is not enlisted as a relief organisation and not a member of Disaster and Relief Committee (DEC) and Rapid Relief Forum (RRF). So, we have no access to relief fund though DFID has pledged GBP 22.8 million in assistance to respond to the quake victims. We have been successful to mobilise another GBP 100,000 from our partner, Christian Aid. Likewise, our supports and staff from other country and regional offices have also contributed.

    Gorkha Relief

    Distributing relief materials in Gorkha district

    We have limited money but the affected area and population is enormous. It was a very difficult decision to agree on our working area. We all felt that we should work with those communities who know us and where the organisation has a long presence. Therefore, we decided to focus ourselves in Gorkha and Dhading districts. The epicentre of the earthquake was in Gorkha, while Dhading is the adjacent district to the east, and both are considered as most affected districts. We coordinated with District Emergency Operation Centre (DEOC) and District Disaster Response Committee (DDRC) in both the districts, who assigned Ashrang, Borlang and Sorpani Village Development Committees (VDCs) of Gorkha and Jogimara, Jyamrung and Salyantar VDCs of Dhading district. We will expand beyond these VDCs once we have more resources and capacity. Beyond relief, we plan to engage in these areas for post recovery works to make sure that they have decent facilities and sustainable livelihood to cope with the adverse situations. The first relief package has already reached Gorkha while we are preparing to dispatch over 6000 tarpaulins, mattresses, water tanks, polythene pipes and food package within a week.

    We have a long term plan for post recovery. We are planning to concentrate on (i) shelter, (ii) WASH (water connection and latrine facilities) and (iii) energy (lighting and mobile charging). In medium term, we are exploring to support for earthquake resilient affordable shelters since over 90% houses are unusable. People use stone masonry with mud mortar in villages. Such structures are vulnerable when they face earthquake more than 6 Richter scale. Therefore, the challenge for us is to offer affordable resilient house building technologies as a medium term plan for recovery. We are collecting the models from our earlier experiences from Sri Lanka (Post Tsunami) and Peru. We are also exploring with other organisations having expertise in developing community shelters.

    I would like to emphasise that Practical Action will not leave any stone unturned to ensure the most needy have access to simpler technology with regard to shelter, water supply, sanitation and energy. I thank Practical Action Nepal staffs who have generously contributed over Rs 16 Lakh to complement our support to the people in need. I would also encourage our associates to join and contribute in whatever capacity you can. We will coordinate with the local authorities to make sure that we complement each other. We wish that all of our trauma of losses will soon subside and make us more resilient in the days to come.

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  • Grieving families say final goodbyes as Nepal ends mourning period

    Thousands of people gathered across Nepal in the last day of a 13-day mourning period for the victims of the deadly earthquake. The death toll from the magnitude-7.8 quake has climbed to 8,413.

    woman surveys the damage to her home by the Nepal earthquake

    Hira Devi Gurungstands in front of her house demolished by the earthquake at Pangtang Village in Sindhupalchowk, Nepal

    Sunil Sharma


    This is a guest blog by Sunil Sharma, a photojournalist with Xinhua News Agency in Nepal, who shares the story of a mourning family in Pangtang, a village in Sindhupalchok District in the Bagmati Zone of central Nepal. 




    “Oh God, why did you ruin my family?” said Siddha Bahadur Gurung, who was taking part in mourning rituals of his mother and mother-in-law.

    Man mourning family deaths in Nepal following the earthquake

    Siddha Bahadur Gurung observes mourning rituals for his dead mother and mother-in-law during earthquake at Pangtang Village in Sindhupalchowk, Nepal

    Siddha was totally helpless as his house collapsed. Many villagers in his district were left homeless due to the catastrophic earthquake on 25 April.

    “My mother and mother-in-law died in front of me; I could not do anything,” he said.

    Siddha lived with his wife, two children, sister and mother, while his mother-in-law lived in another house nearby. They were all were together, chatting during lunch time, when the quake hit and turned his house to rubble.

    “My mother fell down near this wall”, he said, showing me the spot on the rubble near a window, “and here my mother-in-law was near the ladder trying to hold my children but she couldn’t.

    man outside his destroyed home in Pangtang Village in Sindhupalchowk, Nepal following the earthquake

    Siddha Bahadur Gurung shows his damaged house where his mother and mother-in-law were buried during the earthquake at Pangtang Village in Sindhupalchowk, Nepal

    “I was unconscious until my uncle pulled me out from the rubble after an hour. When I gained consciousness, I started to look for my family. We started to search for them together with my uncle.”

    Siddha’s uncle, Hari was busy in his field when the earthquake struck.

    man recounts his nepal earthquake experience

    Hari Adhikari, Siddha’s uncle (centre) recounts the rescue of his sisters’s family from the damaged house at Pangtang Village in Sindhupalchowk, Nepal

    “Suddenly, I heard a bursting sound and felt the ground shaking,” he said. “Everything was shaking, even the hills. I ran towards my house and saw all the three houses along with Siddha’s lying flat on the ground. I called for help and pulled the family members from the rubble, Unfortunately, I couldn’t save Siddha’s mother and mother-in-law.”

    Siddha’s sister Hiradevi and wife Sangita are both injured. His children were injured too, more so psychologically. He is homeless now and staying in a temporary shelter provided by his neighbours. His animals (goat, chicken and ducks) are all buried under the rubble.

    Siddha’s elder sister Mundrika has also lost her home and is mourning the death of her husband.

    woman mourning loss of her home and husband in Nepal

    Mundrika Gurung, Siddha’s elder sister, who lost her house during the earthquake cries for relief at Pangtang village in Sindhupalchowk, Nepal

    His injured wife is being treated in a hospital in Kathmandu, but he has to stay with his remaining family, because his father is also too old to look after them.

    family assessing the damage of Nepal earthquake on their home

    Siddha and his sisters are on their damaged house where his mother and mother-in-law were buried during the earthquake at Pangtang Village in Sindhupalchowk, Nepal

    Many other families lost their sons and fathers, mothers and daughters in the remote village of Pangtang of Sindhupalchowk district in this disastrous earthquake, where support from the government has not yet reached with enough relief operations.

    Such is the destiny of a poor village of Nepal.

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  • Seven lessons from Nepal Earthquake

    Swarnima Shrestha

    May 5th, 2015

    ‘Life is unpredictable’ is a cliché more than a statement. But that cliché has become the most relevant statement in our lives. The recent earthquake that shook Nepal was definitely the worst experience of my life. The moment that it happened and its aftermath both were equally scary and devastating. During the earthquake itself, I felt the ground trembling beneath and the roof shaking above me, I had mentally prepared myself that the roof will fall anytime right on my head. I had never been more scared my whole life, but the hours and days after the earthquake were more heart breaking. My city is broken, my whole nation is in pain, people are suffering, and if there is any feeling at the moment which is more overpowering than fear and pain is the feeling of helplessness; of hardly being able to do anything about it.

    But like every problem and sorrow, this whole experience has taught me some valuable life lessons that otherwise I would have never realised. In a matter of days our lives are completely changed, and this has given me a different perspective on life. Here are the seven lessons that I learnt as Nepal earthquake survivor.

    • You get clear of what really is important in life

    The first thing that you think about during such disaster is the safety of your family (if you are not together). This family may not just include immediate family but the people who are important to you. You realise that people are the most important ‘things’ in life – everything else can be gained back. Your bank balance cannot save your life when the roof comes crumbling down your head, but your neighbour possibly can (by helping you out of the rubble).

    • You learn to cope

    When life puts a very difficult situation ahead of you, you learn to cope to survive. The first instinct in this situation is to cope for survival rather than mourn or be sad. The earthquake brought everyone on the same ground under the same open sky. The rich and the poor, the young and the old everyone was there sleeping outdoors under open sky, no one was possibly ready for such situation in life, but there was no option than to cope to the situation.















    • Luxury isn’t important; love is

    You just realise how little actually is required for survival. Living in tents for a few days with the very basic necessities like food, water, warm clothes, shed that was enough to keep us going. The luxuries were forgotten, but the bond between families, neighbours and friends got stronger. I saw people sharing whatever they had and looking out for each other. It was love that gave us strength and kept us going. I felt like meeting and catching up with everyone and hugging everyone tighter !

    • You value life more

    Everyone who was okay was feeling grateful just to be alive. Even those who lost their homes express gratefulness on being unharmed. People express how lucky they are to be alive rather than saying how unlucky they are that their house got damaged. I feel grateful for this life and have realised the value of small things like enough food to feed ourselves and a roof above our heads.

    • You rise above the sorrows

    In a situation like this, we were all victims. The aftershocks were scaring us all and our families wanted us to stay with them all the time. But, I saw that people who were luckier did not stay put, they stepped out to help the ones less fortunate. We could not sleep and eat properly thinking about the people who lost their homes and loved ones, who needed immediate help. Many people helped others, putting their own lives at risk, everyone stepped up in any way possible. It humbles me to see how everyone is so compassionate about other’s pain and willing to make themselves useful. I have never seen my country more united !

    • Life goes on

    They say that there is only one thing constant about life, that ‘it goes on’. Slowly we are getting used to the aftershocks, to the rubbles, to the danger marks on buildings and even to the pain. Gradually, the shops, businesses, offices are opening. People have started picking up the broken pieces and getting back to their lives.

    • Hope is stronger than fear

    This was certainly the most fearful situation faced by all of us. It is hard to live in a state of constant fear, to be scared of the walls on your side and the ceiling above your head. Suddenly, every structure looks like a threat. It breaks your heart to see your nation in pain, heritages broken, and people suffering. But one thing, that keeps us going is Hope. Hope that everything will be eventually alright. We cannot bring back the people who are gone, but we have to stay strong and build back the nation. And that hope gives us the strength to overcome the fear and step up to help each other out.

    Nepal needs us more now than anytime.



    (We will need your help to bounce back and to rebuild, please donate to

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  • What I saw in Gorkha after the earthquake

    Upendra Shrestha

    May 5th, 2015

    I recently visited one of the severely earthquake affected districts – Gorkha which is also one of the project areas of Practical Action. When I was approaching Gorkha, I could easily see the effect – the hills were covered with orange or blue patches – tarpaulin which people are using as temporary shelter. The situation is panicking as aftershocks are still active. I could see fear in the peoples’ face when they feel the aftershock, escaping out of their vulnerable habitat.

    Temporary shelter made of orange and blue Tarpaulin

    Temporary shelter made of orange and blue Tarpaulin

    I managed to visit a nearby village (Paslang) in the municipality which is completely destroyed; there were 28 houses in the area and now only 4 are standing. The quake claimed two lives – a nine-month-pregnant woman and a month-old child. People are in dire need of shelter. They are managing somehow for food but for shelter they are waiting for the relief materials to reach their area.

    Sher Bahadur showing the spot where his 9 month pregnant daughter-in-law lost her life

    Sher Bahadur showing the spot where his 9 month pregnant daughter-in-law lost her life

    I was in the district headquarters and from the scene one could easily imagine what it could look like in the remote villages in terms of relief and rescue. The temporary shelter in the district headquarters is crowded. There is no provision of toilets as well as people are not concerned about maintaining the hygiene practices – hopefully they have more important things to think about. When I enquired to some of the active social workers who were getting updates from the villages – they said that none of the temporary shelters has toilet facilities.

    Woman sorting her belongings in the rubble at Paslang, Gorkha

    Woman sorting her belongings in the rubble at Paslang, Gorkha

    One could see lots of volunteers and development workers rushing in. It gives a feeling that they are competing with each other to get hold of the villages into their accounts but reaching to the sufferers is not at the expected level. It seems proper coordination among development worker is lacking which is a must – for Better Response.

    Practical Action is conducting relief activities in six Village Development Committees (VDCs), three each in Gorkha and Dhading districts. In the first phase, the relief activities are particularly focused on temporary shelter, water and sanitation including toilets, nutritional diets, energy for lighting and mobile phone charging. In the second phase, after 3 to 6 months, the initiatives will be focused on rehabilitation and restoration of livelihoods with building back better activities.

    Please help our work in Nepal.

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