By Ishwar Rauniyar
An early morning, just one day before the fourth anniversary of Nepal earthquake, a 5.2 magnitude quake gave an alarm to the Nepalis preparing to start their day. Luckily, the quake was not big enough to affect the normal lives.
Four years have passed since an earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale shattered Nepal. It left nearly 9,000 people dead, and hundreds of thousands were injured and homeless. The 2015 earthquake forced the Nepali citizens to imbibe many lessons - including the government and non-governmental organizations that had long been talking about earthquake preparedness. The event exposed the country’s readiness and capacity to cope with a mega-disaster.
At least these lessons have borne some fruit: A number of initiatives are now in place to better prepare for similar disasters in the future.
Disaster Management Act
One significant example is the endorsement of the Disaster Management Act by the government of Nepal. This represented a much-awaited leap forward in terms of strengthening disaster resilience in the country. Guided by the Act, local authorities are also stepping up to take charge.
As part of the commitment towards disaster management Disaster Management Committees (W/MDMC) and Disaster Relief Funds have been established on local, ward and municipal- level. Similarly, people are becoming increasingly aware of the need to have earthquake resilient infrastructure.
New Building Code
“No matter what the infrastructure is- be it personal house or community buildings – people think twice before they make decisions regarding material and hiring builders. They now only hire trained people to ensure the safety of buildings,” says Cecial Adhikari, Programme Manager at DCA Nepal office. “International agencies such as ours are able to raise a level of awareness in the communities and have stressed in the proper implementation of the building code.”
This generation of youth have experienced the ‘ruthless faces’ of the earthquake. They seem more serious in preparedness and are vigilant, which definitely is a good sign – and a positive outcome of the earthquake.
After the 2015 earthquake, the need for better disaster mapping in order to manage and mitigate risks while putting in place an effective response measure has been made clear. People are now taking the building code seriously. Government entities have also been checking house designs thoroughly before approving building permits. The new houses after the earthquake are being built as per earthquake resilient building techniques.
The aftershocks or even fresh earthquakes like the one on April 24, 2019 are constant reminders to people warning them that natural hazards can happen at any time, and it is important to be prepared for upcoming disasters.
“One of the houses that I had just finished building collapsed in the last earthquake. Fortunately the home owners hadn’t moved into the new home yet. Almost 25 houses I had built got damaged with several cracks”, shares Rajendra Tamang, a mason at Makawanpur district.
“It was really a bad experience for me; I couldn’t even face the owner ‘eye-to-eye’. I realized that there was something wrong in my building method. It was only when I joined the 7-day mason training course, that I understood where I had gone wrong,” says Rajendra Tamang.
Rajendra Tamang is now committed to follow the earthquake resilient techniques when building new houses.
Build back Better
“Reconstruction is an ongoing process but overall I think there has been very positive change in terms of building back better,” says David Smith – DCA Nepal’s Country Director.
According to the National Reconstruction Authority 382.043 houses have been constructed and 612.152 houses are under construction. The data also shows that 403.280 people have received third installment. This is 300.000 more than the previous year – which shows that the reconstruction has taken pace. However, there’s still more to do especially concerning community infrastructure like schools, water schemes and health institutions.
Women are taking lead
According to the Post Disaster Needs Assessment Report – along with other infrastructure like houses, schools and health posts, water resources were heavily damaged in the earthquake leaving people with more scarcity of safe drinking water.
In many places, ie in Khari in Dhading district, people migrated to the plains looking for sufficient drinking water.
One positive thing that happened after the earthquake in 2015 was the increased engagement of women in reconstruction process. There is a significant increase in the number of women in construction, either working as a mason or leading different disaster committees we can see significant number of women.
In water schemes that were built as part of the reconstruction project by DCA, women hold key positions in water user groups and committee. With the absence of male members in the communities (many men are in the Gulf countries and Malaysia working as migrant workers) women have taken the lead in supporting the reconstruction process.
I met Bedkumari Shrestha, at one of the water scheme construction site during my recent visit to Dhading, an area that suffered immensely from the earthquake.
“Earlier we used to get shy just by telling our names. Now we are able to visit ward offices and ask how much budget have been allocated for women and where has it been spent,” Bedkumari Shrestha said.
Her experience resonates with almost all the women in the villages.
“We have to walk half an hour to reach to the nearest water source, and we have to fetch water at least 6 times a day. That means that almost three hours are spent just for fetching water,” said Bedkumari.
The communities are hopeful now that they’ll have better facilities of water so that they can spend the extra time doing vegetable farming and also for themselves.
60.000 households reached
DCA was able to reach to around 60,000 households in the past four years through its different thematic activities including Water Sanitation and Hygiene, Shelter, Livelihood Support, DRR and Psychosocial support.
Water at the doorstep
The last four years witnessed a significant change in the lives of people in terms of water facilities.
“Earlier we had to walk for hours and hardly got a bucket of unclean water, but now water taps are at our doorsteps,” says Bhawani Pradhan, the chairperson of water user committee in Makwanpur.
Also in Dhading and Lamjung DCA’s UK AID funded Purnima - Rapid Community WASH project helped people get water access at their doorsteps resulting in a better life with new opportunities for hundreds of families.
Safe drinking water
DCA was able to construct/rehabilitate more than 200 water supply schemes resulting in the provision of safe drinking water to 90,000 individuals.
Open Defecation Free
Dhading, where DCA has ongoing WASH and livelihood projects, was declared the 64th Open Defecation Free (ODF) district of Nepal on April 7, 2019.
For the past several years the government of Nepal along with various NGOs, INGOs and UN Agencies have been extensively working towards declaring Nepal an 'Open Defecation Free Country (ODF)' by the year 2017.
However, the April 2015 earthquake destroyed many infrastructures including toilets which delayed the plan. Now the government is aiming to declare ODF Nepal by July 2019.
In Dhading's journey towards ODF, DCA Nepal played a crucial role by providing access to hygiene and safe drinking water. Most importantly it supported the construction of 2839 toilets - most of them with bathing space, too.
Dignity for women
Women appreciate the new toilets more than men as the toilets contribute to their privacy and dignity. They find the toilets especially beneficial during the menstruation period. They no longer have to go to public taps to take baths and do not have to listen to rude remarks from community people. These are just examples.
Issues of menstrual hygiene came into wider discussion after the earthquake. DCA contributed a lot in this regard through different hygiene related sensitization programs - including teaching adolescent girls and boys making sanitary pads.
Other DCA interventions
Another good practice which has started after the earthquake is insurance of crops, properties and livestock. These are the major factors for risk transfer. The launch of DCA’s insurance programme was very effective. Many people were happy and confident to invest more after insuring their belongings.
New technologies for shelter construction are scaling up after the earthquake. One of the major components is interlocking bricks. Engineers say they have many advantages including earthquake resistance, low cost, much lower carbon ‘footprints’, better quality, and time saving. The demand is increasing widely and rapidly.
DCA is implementing NABIN – New and Affordable Building Materials Promoting Sustainability in Nepal project seeks to test and demonstrate a scaled pro-poor and climate friendly business model for Compressed Stabilized Earth Bricks (CSEB) technology in the Nepalese context, strengthening a number of points along the supply chain of the sustainable construction industry.
Urban Disaster Risk Reduction (DDR)
DCA was able to implement PRAGATI – Urban DRR Project funded by European Union through its Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid. Disaster Information Management Platform were established in two municipalities in Kathmandu valley.
In collaboration with the government DCA has developed Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) to run emergency operation centers. The government has already endorsed SOP at all 753 local units.