Natural Disasters

Four years since killer quake, Nepal building homes and skills

A multi-pronged partnership is helping families recover in Gorkha district, central Nepal

By Manu Gupta
Published: Thursday 25 April 2019
A house being rebuilt in Gorkha, Nepal. Photo: SEEDS
A house being rebuilt in Gorkha, Nepal. Photo: SEEDS A house being rebuilt in Gorkha, Nepal. Photo: SEEDS

Getting back a home and getting the skills to build it more safely are equally important. For a community recovering from a disaster, skill building through the reconstruction process is a critical way to reduce disaster risk in the future.

Four years ago, on April 25, a devastating earthquake left families across Nepal struggling to cope. The scale of the destruction was unprecedented, with over half a million homes completely destroyed and Nepal losing hard-won development gains.

A unique multi-pronged partnership has been helping families in the Gorkha region rebuild their homes and their lives. This brings together the governments of India and Nepal, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Owner Driven Reconstruction Collaborative which includes non-profit SEEDS and affected families themselves.

The partnership works on an owner-driven philosophy, supporting the families with the designs, tools, resources, skills and quality monitoring to rebuild themselves. In remote communities with no formal engineers or architects, this is giving individual homeowners access to high-quality socio-technical input. Through an escalation mechanism (similar to a hospital), all challenges — from getting the paperwork right to on-site technical advice to design tweaks — are being addressed.

As co-founder of SEEDS, I am particularly proud of this aspect. We are playing the role of taking skills to the people, using new and creative ways. Nepal is an area where there is a high possibility of earthquakes. India too has witnessed several devastating disasters and understands that it not just a matter of building better. It is about building the strength to deal with these kinds of disasters in general. We are very happy that we can play a role in this Government of India-supported Nepal Housing Reconstruction Project.

Working within the framework of Nepal’s National Reconstruction Authority, 26,912 houses are being facilitated; it is one of the largest owner-driven programmes that has been undertaken in the wake of a disaster. Delivering at this scale means finding avenues beyond face-to-face training to constantly build reconstruction skills and reinforce risk reduction messages.

So around Gorkha, arts are meeting technical input in innovative ways. You find a theatre group from Kathmandu performing plays about safer reconstruction. You see a mobile technology clinic which is travelling around delivering messages through audio-visual mediums and door-to-door visits. The added advantage? It also gathers ground reports, provides on-spot advisory support and serves as a bridge to respective departments in terms of policy challenges being faced.

Masons, homeowners, Awas Nirman Sathis (part of the field team) and local authorities take transect walks together across the project area. This explores the condition of reconstruction, showing good and bad practices by observing, asking, listening and looking.

On an even broader level, radios are the best tools to pass information to rural communities.

Fifty-one different community radio programmes have been produced and aired — with themes ranging from contractor issues, women in reconstruction, common mistakes of the different building typologies, and the processes of tranche release. The “Mero Ghar Ko Punanirman Mero Netritwoma” series is aired in coordination with Radio Gorkha. Yet, what happens to those busy at work and unable to listen?

Radio Listener Groups (much like book clubs) have been formed in different neighbourhoods where a group of men and women listen to the programmes together, discuss the content and systematically try to put it in practice. In one cluster, the club focal person has actually been carrying a radio to the construction place, combining listening with work. The groups also share feedback on what topics to include in this infotainment format.

Ayshanie Labe, UNDP’s Resident Representative in Nepal also looks at a future perspective. “Looking beyond the ongoing reconstruction, what is also crucial is to put in place strong institutions with specific skills needed to effectively handle disasters in the hours of need. While a major breakthrough has been made with the adoption of the National Policy and Strategic Action Plan for Disaster Risk Reduction and Management, we need to rally our efforts to put the policy into practice. UNDP is privileged to continue to work alongside the Government of Nepal, India and all other partners in building a more resilient Nepal.”  

As Nepal moves into its fourth year after the earthquake, the resilience of its people has never been clearer. In Gorkha, these initiatives hope to improve the resilience of their rebuilt communities as well. For when homeowners have the skill to build more safely, it’s not just about getting back a home. It’s about seeding a culture of safety!  

Manu Gupta is co-founder of SEEDS, a non-profit organisation working in disaster risk reduction and recovery in Asia

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