As I sat in the restaurant of a hotel in Kathmandu, I noticed a large expedition team preparing to depart for Mount Everest. As they went over their plans for the trek to base camp, I couldn’t help but think about what a task it is to take on this most famous of mountains, what formidable difficulties and dangers they might face in doing so. Climbing the mountain means facing walls of ice, bridging bottomless crevasses, keeping a sharp eye out for avalanches and sudden storms. I’m sure for many on this expedition team, Everest would be a challenge of a lifetime, but they seemed ready and well-equipped for their mission. It was this realization that jarred my thoughts back to why I was in Kathmandu in the first place - to visit communities affected by last year’s devastating earthquake.
Nepal was not ready nor well-equipped for the 7.8 magnitude quake, which struck on April 25, 2015, one year ago today, and killed nearly 9,000 people, injured more than 20,000 and destroyed more than 600,000 homes.
Among the most severely affected areas were poor rural villages, known as Village Development Committees (VDCs), near the epicenter, four of which you support through your gifts to LWR’s Nepal Earthquake Response Program (NERP), which began in May 2015. Now, a year after the earthquake, my colleagues and I were in Nepal to visit some of these communities to see first-hand how they were recovering.
Stopping by Krishna Patan’s small farm deep in the steep hills of Jaubari VDC in Gorkha District was an encouraging start to our trip.
He had lost his home and much of his food and livestock in the earthquake. But Krishna, who hails from generations of farmers, knew his best means to recovery was through his land. When LWR began offering trainings to help earthquake-affected farmers recover their livelihoods, he jumped at the chance to participate and learn about improved agriculture practices he could use to increase the productivity and marketability of his farm.
As he showed my colleagues and I around his fields, Krishna said the trainings gave him a better understanding of the importance of testing his soil as well as using organic fertilizer. The trainings also gave him the idea to further diversify his crop with avocadoes, which are not a traditional crop of Nepal but can grow well in its climate. After the trainings, Krishna was inspired to think of his farming and that of his community more like an agro-business instead of merely for subsistence. He is now encouraging his farmers’ group to build a crop storage facility and to market their produce collectively to get better prices and to cut down on their transportation costs.
Lamaya Bishwakarma, whose home is in Kolki VDC in Lamjung District, also participated in LWR’s agriculture trainings. She has had particular success, she told us, with the potato seeds she received from LWR after the training. In her first attempt, she was able to produce 50 kgs (110 lbs) of potatoes, ensuring her family would have food for the coming months.
As Chairperson of her ward's mothers' group, Lamaya took it upon herself to share her training with other Dalits in her community. Lamaya’s efforts are particularly important since Dalits, as a marginalized group, often do not have access to opportunities and resources for their development.
Trekking to Recovery
In every community we visited, we found people like Lamaya and Krishna, who were doing their best to recover with the support they were receiving. Many were able to take part in cash-for-work activities, like debris clearance and road maintenance, to quickly earn income for their daily needs while also contributing to the recovery of their community as a whole. Eager to “build back safer,” masons participated in LWR’s trainings on earthquake resistant construction. Along the way, we were shown several demonstration buildings on which they had practiced their newly acquired construction skills. But practice was all these masons were free to do. Fearing exclusion from future support if they did not follow the Government of Nepal’s authorized reconstruction plan, earthquake-affected communities waited – for an entire year – for the plan and regulations to be finalized before they could start to rebuild.
On the last day of our visit in Kolki, Jayanti Guru’s story reminded us of the struggles that still await millions of Nepalis on their trek to recovery. The earthquake destroyed her home, as it did most homes in her ward. She and her ten family members now live in a small temporary shelter [pictured], which they built using construction materials LWR provided in June, like sheets of corrugated galvanized iron.
A multitude of political issues that arose in the months after the earthquake - including a four month-long blockade of the India-Nepal border - meant Jayanti, and 3 million others, suffered through a monsoon season and harsh winter without permanent shelter. The Government of Nepal only started disbursing reconstruction grants this month, and their reconstruction guidelines were just formalized last week. Abiding by the government’s “one door policy” for aid coordination, INGOs, including LWR, could not move forward with permanent shelter support until these guidelines and authorization were received. LWR is now in the process of submitting its shelter proposal to the government, and we hope to begin with it as soon as possible. However, with Nepal’s monsoon season starting in July, it seems unlikely that many communities will be able to rebuild before the rains come – if they can even afford to begin at all.
The Climb Ahead
Poverty is the greatest hindrance to full recovery for many Nepalis. Rural communities in Nepal lack the basic infrastructure, such as passable roads and irrigation, necessary for their development and income generation. Even with reconstruction grants, many rural Nepalis will be unable to save enough money to pay for the cheapest earthquake resistant house model approved by the government.
Poverty is the Everest-sized challenge millions of Nepalis must conquer in order to fully recover from this disaster. Like the Everest expedition team, they must have the training and equipment to successfully climb this mountain, and that’s where people like you come in.