In the second week of May Gerhard Wilts journalist with the newspaper ‘The Dutch Daily’ visited us in Bijulikot to see how it is going with the reconstruction after the earthquakes in Nepal in 2015. You can read the article here in Dutch – a two-pager with a positive impression, which we have translated upon request in English below!
We are extremely thankful, that in Ramechhap we can be a real example for the surrounding areas. The fact that the chief of the government body National Reconstruction Authority talks full of enthusiasm about the fact that he wants to duplicate Medair’s project, tells me enough… We are incredibly proud of our team.
Please read below the article translated to English (translation by Tina Meeuwisz):
In Bijulikot everyone wants to move forward
By: Gerhard Wilts/Nederlands Dagblad
“We were busy with the harvest,” says Padma, “when the earth began to shake violently. I could not manage to keep up standing, trees fell down instantly and big cracks appeared in the walls of my house. “Two years after the earthquake, Nepal has not yet overcome the disaster.
Squatting on a reed mat next to the stable, Padma Kumasi Budathoki recalls the devastating earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25, 2015. The 75-year-old farmer could no longer live in her old house. ‘In the first few weeks, my husband and I only had a plastic tarp to live under. That was hard, also because there are snakes here. Later we could temporarily live in a cousin’s house. The government helped us with rice, tarps and a grant of 25,000 rupees (around 250 euros) to rebuild our lives again.’
Two years after the disaster. This month, Padma finally gets a safe, earthquake-resilient home, built with the support of the Christian relief organization Medair and her local partner CDS. With aid worker Wendy van Amerongen and a translator I visit Padma. In the difficult accessible area of Ramechhap, Medair is the only organization helping the victims. ‘I am so grateful to the relief organisations and donors,’ says the elderly woman. ‘Otherwise I could not have survived this.’ Her eyes well up. A tear runs down her cheek. ‘I feel so powerless. My husband has bad kidneys; he has now gone to a clinic by foot, one hour from here, to have his stoma checked. He cannot work anymore, so I have to fend for myself. His health is more important to me than that house.’
Daughter Tonisha lovingly caresses her mother’s skinny shoulders. She lives in another village, with her in-laws, and is the only one who occasionally helps her mother. Tonisha stands up and says, ‘I’m going to see if father has returned.’ When we descend to our car half an hour later, a thunderstorm emerges overhead. Halfway down the slope we run into Tonisha with her stumbling father.
During the heavy earthquake in April 2015, followed three weeks later by a second earthquake, more than 8,700 Nepalese lost their lives. The damage to the houses was huge and hundreds of thousands of people became homeless. The authorities, especially in the eyes of foreign countries, reacted too slowly implementing relief and placed restrictions on aid organisations. Two years after the earthquake, many foreign funds have still not yet been used.
‘Yet, the long wait is not strange,’ says Wendy van Amerongen: ‘The scale of this disaster is huge. The mountainous landscape does not help, and it takes time to set up a good organisation and logistics and to set up a catalog of earthquake-resilient homes.’ But it also has advantages. ‘We had time to train masons in earthquake-resilient techniques; which are different from traditional construction. Residents go from homes with several floors to one floor homes. Especially if an existing but uninhabitable house had to be completely broken down, it was difficult to convince the population of the need.’
From South Sudan to Nepal
With her husband Willem, Wendy moved from the chaotic South Sudan to the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, early last year. She sees big differences. ‘In South Sudan it was unsafe. The fighting and the threat of robbery never stopped. We had barely any freedom of movement. And the dangers kept increasing: there is fighting everywhere and aid workers are becoming targets more often during combat. The traumas of the South Sudanese people are very deep: “God has forgotten our country,” they said. The despondency was enormous – so much so that I also often lost hope.’
Nepal is in a sense a relief for her. ‘The Nepalese people went through a natural disaster, but there is no ongoing war. You can feel the drive they have for reconstruction. That gives me new energy, there is hope again. Even though the Nepalese people are mostly Hindus, I can show them God’s love in a practical way. Emergency relief in remote areas is not easy, but walking in the mountains often feels like being on vacation.’
At the same time there are other challenges, she immediately adds: ‘Medair works in the mountainous and sparsely populated district of Ramechhap. The rainy season limits the assistance. There is a constant risk of landslides, but leaving this area is not an option for the population. There are not enough masons to build houses. Questions like: Will the government distribute the money on time? And what will happen after the elections? A plus point is that the population is better educated and therefore better developed compared to South Sudan. There is also a growing solidarity within the community which Medair has used in the form of clusters (groups of people, neighbors helping each other) during the reconstruction: Nepalese villagers help each other, or go to neighboring villages to help.’
One of them is Man Bahadur Bohasa, a 46-year-old mason who is busy with the roof of house owner Talak Budathoki. “Due to the construction of such a large number of safe houses there is a lack of construction workers,” he says. “I work now seven days a week, from seven o’clock in the morning to five thirty in the afternoon.” He lets the hammer rest in his tanned hand for a moment and grins: “Sometimes working days are even longer.” He can make a good living with this, even though prices for construction materials have risen.
Talak Budathoki’s house is almost ready. The owner, father of eight children, smiles while he hospitably offers sweet tea with milk in his bamboo emergency shelter. ‘Within a few weeks we can sleep well again. We have lived in a hut made of bamboo and tarp next to our old house for a year and a half. At the opening of our new home, I will invite the whole family, we will slaughter a goat and hold a festive Hindu ceremony. The old house will be used as a storage space.’
A sense of optimism flows along the steep slopes around the village of Bijulikot. At several restored houses we receive a warm welcome consisting of sweet tea and flower necklaces around our necks. Under the blazing sun, Namas Bahadur Khulal tells about the reconstruction among a group of men. ‘Our houses and water wells were damaged, in the fields there were deep cracks of hundreds of meters and the groundwater level dropped. The harvest was largely unsuccessful, but with the support of the government and Medair we are able to rebuild our lives again. Two months ago, there was a small earthquake, but we are no longer afraid because we live in safer homes. In the meantime we also help in other neighborhoods with repairs.’
Even the blind Kul Bahadur Magar seems to smile constantly, as he talks about his role in the reconstruction. In a dingy shirt with Justin Bieber print and an old brown-red hat atop his head, he explains that the government aid of 2000 rupees per month (20 euros) for disabled persons is insufficient. At his own house – familiar terrain for him – Magar helps a mason by mixing cement and carrying things around, because ‘finding a permanent job is difficult’. Although he also followed training to make candles and soaps. ‘I would like to do more, but there must be a market for it,’ he smiles.
Technical specialist Sushil Katri Tiwal of CDS, Medair’s local partner, acknowledges that there is considerable progress. The support of the population to build more secure homes is increasing thanks to the government’s financial support and the commitment and expertise of aid organizations, he says. ‘A couple in their eighties had a very hard time with the fact that their home had to be broken down while there was no money yet. Their children also did not see the necessity initially. Now that they can live in a safe house, everyone is happy.’
Rishi Raj Acharya, who leads the official reconstruction agency NRA in the district of Ramechhap, focuses on numbers to underline the, according to him, successful government policy. ‘The material damage caused by the earthquakes is estimated at € 9 billion. The National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) has been set up to monitor the rebuilding.’
He is particularly keen on Medair’s support, which made Ramechhap ‘an example region’. ‘I have seen their projects as in Bijulikot with my own eyes. The government’s deadline to have all homes rebuilt in 2022 is feasible. At least in my district.’
Although the reconstruction started slowly, CDS aid worker Sarita Basel is surprised by the rapid progress. The difference with six months ago is clearly visible, she tells, while she rests in the shade by a restaurant during the work visit. Around her some chickens and pigeons forage. Goats tied under a shelter against the burning sun bleat for attention. The animals seem to support her words about the progress.
‘More than fifty safe homes are already finished. Soon 1,200 more will be added to that number’ says Sarita. ‘Of course, not everything is going well. Women are often disadvantaged when it comes to receiving help; for example, a pregnant woman did not receive medication in the emergency aid phase. The task of ensuring that women are treated equally is also what we do with CDS. ‘But further, she decides with a smile,’ I can really only tell success stories. Those are here in abundance.’
Background information on earthquake: Turbulent times
On Saturday, April 25, 2015, Nepal is hit by a very heavy earthquake.
During the earthquake there are 8790 people killed west of the capital city of Kathmandu. During a second earthquake on Tuesday, May 12, this time east of the capital, 37 people are killed. At least 21,000 Nepalis are injured and approximately 824,000 homes are destroyed or damaged.
The earthquakes hit Nepal at a bad time. The country is in a political transition: in 2008 the monarchy was abolished and the Hindu nation was officially proclaimed as a secular state. There is still a lot of old pain after a ten-year civil war with Maoist rebels at the beginning of this century. The elections this year (municipal councils) and next year (provinces and parliament) slow down political vigor.
Background information: What still has to be done
The international community has made $ 4.2 billion available for reconstruction in Nepal. Only after eight months, in January 2016, Nepal introduced the NRA Monitoring and Coordination Body. But two years after the earthquake, only five percent of the destroyed houses have been rebuilt (43,000) and twelve percent of the funds were deployed.
Over 544,000 families have received their first $ 500 subsidy for, among other things, the rebuilding of homes. Second and third grants only follow after inspection and approval by the authorities; each family is entitled to a grant of (converted) $ 3,000. In total, approximately seventeen percent of the total number of grants has been provided.
Many households have spent two winters in tents or bamboo huts. There is a huge lack of drinking water, building materials and masons. Many Nepalese families do not want to wait any longer and start the recovery or new construction themselves.
In the remote district of Ramechhap, where Medair operates, the construction of 310 earthquake-resilient houses began in July last year: 56 have been finished, 170 are under construction, while permission has been granted to build another 953 houses. Masons are trained at a high pace, there are now 270.
Seismologists expect that Nepal will be hit again by a severe earthquake within fifteen years.
sources: NRA, Medair