After the quake: five years of reconstruction work in Nepal

After the quake: five years of reconstruction work in Nepal

Apr 23, 2020

The small village of Dhusa, in the Chitwan District of Nepal, sits on a hill high above the Trishuli River. On most days, the 20 families who once lived here enjoy crisp air and stunning views. But just before noon on April 25, 2015, their lives were changed forever, when a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit the country, followed by a series of strong aftershocks. "I was returning from Phisling when the earthquake struck," says one Dhusa resident, Phool Mati Praja. "When I reached my house, it wasn’t there." 

The worst earthquake to hit Nepal in 80 years killed nearly 9,000 people, destroyed over half a million homes, and changed the lives of hundreds of thousands. Too afraid to return to damaged homes, many people opted to stay outdoors, including Phool. "We used old metal sheets to make a makeshift home," she recalls.

Living in constant fear of landslides

While the villagers of Dhusa were lucky to survive the initial earthquake, the worst was yet to come. The tremor triggered hundreds of landslides across Nepal, including two that struck within meters of the village’s houses.

"The secretary of our Village Development Committee and the technician came and took some pictures,” Phool says. “A few days later, the engineer came to inspect the area and told us that it is no longer safe for us to stay here."

After that, Phool and her neighbor, Daman Kumari Chepang, lived in constant fear, wondering what would happen to them during the heavy monsoon rains that affect their village every summer. They worried about more landslides and another earthquake. Phool and Daman knew that they should leave Dhusa, but they did not have the land or resources to build elsewhere. Many simply reconstructed their old homes despite the risks.

To help people living in areas prone to landslides, the Nepal government introduced a program of financial support to enable them to buy land and rebuild in safe areas. However, some of the potential beneficiaries had trouble accessing government support. "We were confused about the process so we stayed here and didn’t apply," says Phool.

For this reason, a team from People in Need (PIN) and our partner, Community Self-Reliance Centre (CSRC), came to Dhusa to help. As part of the Durable Solutions project funded by UK Aid from the UK government, we advised Dhusa residents on how to access the government support program.

The Durable Solutions program assists the National Reconstruction Authority with the implementation of the resettlement program, launched nationwide after the 2015 earthquake. To date, 2,428 households with 10,566 family members have been relocated thanks to the support of PIN and our partners.

Land certificates for 20 houses

The first step in the program was to find a location for the new homes. However, even after villagers found a suitable location and geologists confirmed it was safe, they still needed to obtain land certificates. "We did not know anything about paperwork,” says Daman. “Fortunately, the team from PIN was here to help. No matter how much you have studied, if you don’t have experience with this type of paperwork, it is very difficult to do."

A few months after PIN’s intervention, all 20 households received new land certificates. These efforts were supported by the National Reconstruction Authority, which manages the resettlement program for the government.

The new village of 20 homes is almost finished. As part of the Hamro Ghar project, and in partnership with local partners Phase Nepal, Scott Wilson Nepal, and Build Change, PIN is also helping families with construction, work that is support by generous funding from UK Aid from the UK government. "It is good that the rural municipality, the school, the health clinic, and the police station are nearby," says Phool. "Most importantly, we are in a flat area, so there are no cliffs and we are no longer afraid of landslides."


Support for Nepali women

“Her Safety,” a protection program for women, is another aspect of PIN’s work in Nepal. The main objective of this initiative is to help women in communities like Dhusa stay safe and healthy in difficult times. "People are organized into groups that include women and men from the relocated sites and their new neighbors,” says Jakub Smutny, PIN’s Nepal Country Director. “These groups spend time together in trainings, where they discuss different protection issues identified as important by the community, from access to safe water to safe migration or ways to manage stress while settling down in a new home.”

Through conditional cash grants, the groups then have a chance to address some of the issues they’ve identified, be it through the construction of water tanks to store water, separate community toilets for women and men, or knitting courses to make hats, shawls and gloves that come in handy during winter while also providing a useful source of income.

Author: Petr Stefan, Sajana Shrestha, People in Need