Update on the Nepal earthquake response

July 27th, 2015

This is my second blog during my current visit to Nepal. I came back to Kathmandu this afternoon after visits to projects in Chitwan district (down close to the Terai region of Nepal which abuts the plains of northern India) and to also see some of the earthquake response work we have been doing in Gorkha District in the middle hills. I will stick with the earthquake work for this blog and then return to the other projects for a later one.

Damage to old royal palace in Kathmandu

Damage to old royal palace in Kathmandu

Walking and driving around Kathmandu this evening it’s difficult to spot the evidence of the impact of the April and May earthquakes. At first sight things seem pretty normal and, truth be told, apart from some cosmetic cracking of surface finishes, most modern concrete framed buildings seem to have survived and coped well with the earthquakes. Bhimsen Tower, a notable landmark next to the Central Post Office in Kathmandu is missing – but the rubble has already been cleared away, so all that you notice is literally, that it’s not there anymore! On the Tundikhel (or parade ground) there are only a few left of the hundreds of tents that people sought shelter in in the immediate aftermath of the first earthquake. You have to dive into the narrow lanes of Assan, the old part of town before things become a little more obvious. Many of the old houses and shops here have temporary props installed to hold up the front walls and in a couple of cases buildings appear to lean at alarming angles. But its only when you get to the main Durbar Square that you see some really significant destruction, with many temples damaged, including the Kasthamandap, one of the most famous, completely destroyed, and large scale damage to the old royal palace (see photo).

In Gorkha it was a bit like that too. I managed to visit one village development committee area (similar to a ward or a parish in the UK in terms of size) where we have been working – Ashrang. At first it was difficult to get a sense of the scale of the impact. There were occasional piles of rubble where houses had been, but generally most structures seemed to be OK. And where the buildings were modern and concrete framed that generally was the case. But many of the traditional stone and mud mortar houses that looked ok at first sight were clearly not OK after a more detailed view. Some had serious cracks that left them unstable and vulnerable to collapse whilst others, on closer inspection had sound facades but when you went around the back you could see entire walls missing.

In the immediate aftermath of the first earthquake Practical Action, with support from Christian Aid and the help of our local partner Goreto, was involved in distributing relief materials (tarpaulins for shelter, water purification tablets, blankets and food) across 17 village development committees (VDC’s) in Gorkha and Dhading Districts.

The disaster response as a whole has now moved on to a second phase of providing temporary shelter that will help people survive the monsoon. Proper rebuilding will only start once the monsoon is over. We are coordinating our effort with the local government and other NGOs and have been allocated two VDCs in Gorkha and two in Dhading to work on. Again with Christian Aid and Goreto, we’ve trained over one hundred men and women across these areas to build simple temporary shelters that are earthquake proof and helped over 1700 households get access to building material such as corrugated iron sheet to help with this construction.

The remains of Khadanada Dhakal's house

The remains of Khadanada Dhakal’s house

Khadanada Dhakal, aged 79, is one example. Khadanada lives on his own as his daughter is married and his two sons overseas studying. His house was completely destroyed by the earthquake but, using material recovered from the debris and new corrugated iron sheet, we’ve managed to put something together that will provide adequate shelter for the rest of the monsoon.

Achyut Luitel (Regional Director Practical Action) talking to Khadanada Dhakal outside his temporary shelter

Achyut Luitel (Regional Director Practical Action) talking to Khadanada Dhakal outside his temporary shelter

We’ve also restored water supplies and put some solar charging stations where there is no electricity to help people charge mobiles and keep communications working. And we’re in the process of assessing the status of latrines across the 4 VDC’s with a view to repairs to ensure safe sanitation.

At the moment we are drawing up plans for how we want to be involved post monsoon in the reconstruction phase. Most likely it will be through trying to help with the design of the new houses that will have to be built to ensure they are a bit more resilient to future earthquakes.


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