Last year, in April and May 2015, Nepal was rocked by two huge earthquakes that killed over 9,000 people and injured more than 22,000. Hundreds of thousands lost their homes, businesses and were left without access to energy and other basic services.
At the time we were not only concerned for our team working in the country, but also for the hundreds of families who we have supported during our years working in Nepal. 19 of the 22 communities we directly support were within the affected area, nine of them seriously affected. Although we are not an organization experienced in disaster relief, we were determined to help those communities most affected.
Nepal Earthquake Urgent Appeal
Our urgent appeal was soon launched and we were overwhelmed with the response. Within a matter of weeks we had managed to raise almost £30,000, which meant that our team in Nepal was confident that they could provide assistance to those communities most in need. Early assessments told us that restoring basic services and providing solutions for loss of income was going to be the area where Renewable World could add the most value, as well as providing some basic supplies to families who had lost everything.
We coordinated with our local partners, particularly iDE Nepal, Bio-gas Sector (BSP) Nepal, and Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) to provide fast and efficient support to communities affected. At a time of resource scarcity it was important to ensure efficiencies in our support.
Our earthquake relief work
In partnership with ADRA and with additional funding from NZAid, we launched the Nepal Earthquake Emergency Relief (NEER) project. Dhading district was one of the worst hit by the earthquake with 98% of the houses reported to have been damaged. Our NEER project prioritized seven communities in this district who had previously been supported through Renewable World’s Hydram programme. Every house in the seven communities had been damaged by the quake, most beyond repair, and all the families were living in their fields in makeshift tents. While there had been few human casualties, most families had lost their livestock, a major asset, as the houses had fallen on top of them (Nepali houses are usually built to have the livestock sheds on the ground floor with the family rooms above).
Through NEER we have been able to deliver solar powered appliances for lighting and communication to over 300 families, restore access to water by repairing earthquake damage to hydrams and provide agricultural inputs (seeds and tools) for high value crops and appropriate training. A further two communities in Kavre and Sindhupalchok districts, with a total of 62 households who were also seriously affected, also received our support.
Solar powered lamps and radios
Solar powered lamps with mobile phone charging capabilities have been welcomed by families. With no access to power in their temporary homes, these lamps provide light for cooking and household work in the evenings, and allow children to study and do school work. The portable nature of the lights has also been a particular asset for when residents need to use the toilet, feed livestock and carry water in the early morning or in the evenings. The majority of individuals interviewed, and particularly the women respondents, said that the access to light made them feel safer at night.
Following the earthquake communication services were seriously disrupted. The lack of information on aid available and government support caused a lot of anxiety, leaving communities feeling abandoned. At the same time, the inability to find out the status of friends and families in other towns and villages was emotionally draining. The capacity for the solar lamps to charge mobile phones has helped families to stay in touch and helped to coordinate aid services. The solar powered radios have been integral in allowing families to hear about aid and other assistance available. They have also been the source of some music and much needed light entertainment during these difficult times.
How our renewable technology fared
As part of this project, Renewable World mobilized local technicians to assess the extent of the damage to the existing seven Hydram water pumping systems. Amazingly all the pump technology had survived the earthquake; however there had been severe damage to some of the water intake channels, delivery pipes and storage tanks, leading to communities facing a shortage of water for drinking, sanitation and irrigation. At a time of such disruption, reverting to travelling long distances to collect water for basic needs was a burden families did not need.
Necessary repairs have been carried out to the Hydrams, additional tap stands have been built and water tanks have been reinforced to make sure more people could have access to water. We are pleased to say that all seven Hydrams are now in full working condition. In Kavre, a cracked solar panel on the solar water pumping system was replaced and the system was restored to working order. Unfortunately, the bio-gas plant in Sindhupalchok was destroyed beyond repair. Our technicians made sure it was safe, but we are yet to decide with the community what action we take next.
Since the main source of income for these communities is agriculture, we felt it was important to support families to get back on their feet as soon as possible after the earthquake, ensuring that they did not miss out on a season of farming. Having lost so much already, the loss of a season’s income could have pushed families into extreme poverty. With the monsoon just around the corner, prompt action was crucial. With expertise from ADRA we provided all 300 households in the NEER project with agricultural inputs, including seeds and tools to grow high value vegetable crops, training to use micro-irrigation systems and greenhouses to maximize crop yields. The hope is that households will continue to bring in the income needed to support their families while still rebuilding their homes.
Here are the stories of just a few of the people that we were able to help and support in the aftermath of last year’s devastating earthquakes.
Hira is 50 years old and from Kalleri, in Dhading district. She lives with her husband, son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter. Just a few months before the earthquake struck Hira and her family had built themselves a new house, however the quake badly damaged her new house and completely damaged her old one, forcing her to set up home in a temporary shelter. She told us:
“We did not have access to electricity for a few months after the earthquake and we were so happy to find this solar lamp as it is very useful for us to carry out our household chores, to go to the toilet and field, and carry water in the morning and evening when it is dark. The good thing about this solar light is that it is also very bright and there are no insects around the light which we used to face before.”
When asked about the radio she had been provided with, Hira told us:
“I use it to listen to the songs on the radio and my husband listens to the news. We normally use it for around three hours a day.”
Hira intends to save money to rebuild her house in the future.
“Now that I have access to water from the Hydram, I am very interested learning about micro-irrigation technology so that I can grow more vegetables on less land. I also want to grow more off-season vegetables, which have more value in the market, so that I can have more income and will be able to rebuild my house again.”
Subhadra is 23 years old and lives with her two sons, husband, father-in-law and mother-in-law. Her house was also badly damaged after the earthquake and she is currently living in temporary shelter above the cowshed. She has access to grid electricity, which she managed to extend from the nearest available access point, but she mentioned that there is load shedding for around three to four hours in the evening. Because of this she finds the solar lighting very useful, helping her conduct all her household work (especially cooking) and allowing her children to study. She told us:
“I don’t use the light from the grid that much, most of the time I use this lamp. Because it is portable I can carry it to the field, to the toilet and to walk in the dark in the morning and evening to collect water. Since my baby is very small and we are staying in the temporary shelter, I am using this throughout the whole night as my baby feels safer in the light.”
Sita is 60 years old and from Kusunde, in Dhading district; she lives with her husband and 18-year-old son. Agriculture and the sale of livestock is her main source of income. Before last year’s quakes she did not have access to water from a pumped water source and therefore had to depend on a rain-fed irrigation system for her crops. When the earthquake struck Sita was on her way to the nearby market. Upon returning home she found that her two cows and two goats were dead, buried under the collapsed shed. Her house was also destroyed. A handful of chickens were left, but a few days later they were eaten by a jackal because she did not have proper shelter for them. She also lost her corn harvest, which was destroyed when her family home collapsed. She told us that:
“Now that I have access to water, I plan to grow vegetables not only for consumption, but also for selling, so that I can earn money. I do not have any other source of income for my living costs. I hope now that all the houses in this community will unite and grow more vegetables to increase our income.”
Report from the field
Back in December our Regional Programme Support Volunteer, Matt Kinsella, visited some of the communities in Dhading district that we helped.
We saw many homes and schools in ruins and families living in temporary accommodation. The winter in Nepal’s hills and mountains can be severe, and with inadequate shelter, many of the young children and elderly people we met in these villages could be amongst the vulnerable groups.
I observed as Anita interviewed one family, and though I could not understand the words they were saying, their faces showed clearly that the emotions and memories of that day in April were still vivid. The sense of shock and loss was palpable. Anita explained to me afterwards – the family home had collapsed in the quake, trapping an elderly lady and young child inside. Both survived and were rescued, against the odds. With admirable resourcefulness, the man had taken a small loan and constructed a temporary home for his family, overlooking the rubble where their original house had stood.
Thanks to Renewable World’s appeal in May this year, this family were one of many who had received a solar lantern shortly after the earthquake. The communities had also been equipped with solar radios, helping to keep them in contact with news announcements. The feedback on these interventions was very positive – they had helped to ease the impact of the quake in some small way, providing light and a link to the wider world. Importantly, the appeal also paid for damaged Hydram pumps to be repaired and put in working order, and the benefit of these systems was clear. We saw fresh water being pumped for irrigation, helping the communities to grow a wide variety of fresh produce, both for their own consumption and for sale. Water was also being put to household use – cooking, washing, cleaning – and one community mentioned that they hope to use the pumped water for mixing mortar when reconstruction of their homes begins. Though these communities have been hit hard by the earthquake, it was heartening to see that they at least have basic supplies of water and food this winter.
More than this, there was a sense that these small actions, a simple act of kindness at a time of loss and trauma, had helped to galvanise the affected communities and to bolster their own resilience. This resilience was evident in the warm welcome the communities gave us, in their smiles and laughter, and their determination to put a brave face on sad, frightening events. As the political disputes about the fuel crisis rumble on interminably, and the temperatures continue to drop, life in the hills goes on. It is this resilience which might give cause for hope.
You can read Matt’s full account here.
We are extremely grateful to all those who contributed to our urgent appeal. Your support has helped us reach over 2,000 people who lost almost everything during last year’s devastating earthquakes. Thanks to your generosity they now have the tools they need to help rebuild their lives.