The world’s media long ago turned its attention away from the devastation caused by the earthquakes in Nepal, and even Nepalis in non-affected parts of the country seem to have put the thought behind them. But for everyone living in Kathmandu, Sindhupalchowk, Dolakha, Gorkha and other earthquake-hit districts, there is no forgetting. The literal shaking of lives is still felt as a daily reality.
In Kathmandu, the government has come out with a Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) – launched at an International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction, held precisely two months after the earthquake of 25 April. This was widely attended by both government and donor representatives, and set a broad framework of optimistic intentions – with the commitment of large financial sums. As always in such situations, it is the practical implementation that is important. For people out in the villages, surviving in temporary shelters whilst the monsoon rains batter their tarpaulin covers, the PDNA is a very distant concept. The one government promise of which many have heard is of the distribution of NRs 200,000 to every affected household. Thus of course verifying household numbers and the names of members, mentioned in an earlier posting, is a sensitive matter. The role of local government would be crucial if it existed, but unfortunately the lack of elected local government representatives looks set to continue for some time (the last local elections took place in 1997).
Reporting from a recent visit to Melamchi valley in Sindhupalanchowk, our Deputy Director Mona Sherpa writes, “People now are not so eager about relief, no longer crowding as they used to earlier. They are now back to their normal life i.e. agriculture, constructing their temporary shelters, or earning money for better shelter. Schools have reopened although right now [it’s the] monsoon holiday. Farmers are already in their field with the rains, although they say it is not enough yet…. I can see that [relief operations are] much filtered now and few organisations remain.” As far as our efforts are concerned, as of the end of July we had supplied relief and livelihood support to 14,438 households in the districts of Sindhupalchowk, Gorkha, Kavre Palanchowk, Ramechhap and Dhading. The rehabilitation of irrigation systems is on-going, with 26 completed so far; 1,421 community WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) materials have been distributed, and 753 toilets installed. In the eight VDCs of Melamchi valley we have worked closely with Solidar Swiss and CARITAS Swiss. Collaboration with the former has focused on the distribution of seed, dignity and hygiene kits and the repair of latrines; and with the latter, on schools. Thus 41 schools in the valley now have temporary learning centres (TLCs) and toilets. We have 15 staff employed full time on this earthquake recovery work.
One issue that has been the subject of some discussion with other relief and/or development organisations is the provision of gender-sensitive shelters. Wishing to respond to women’s need for privacy, some organisations are advocating the construction of shelters with a specific room for women, as well as a small, separate “women’s hut” for use during menstruation. Although well meant, this in fact reinforces the traditional practice of “chhaupadi” – under which women are perceived as ritually polluting during their menstrual period, required to stay outside the family home, and are treated in a very degrading manner. As Mona Sherpa points out, women’s privacy is important – but not at the expense of their dignity. The discussion illustrates the importance of understanding not only traditional customs, but the significance behind them – and of raising awareness about this. Once the monsoon rains draw to a close, reconstruction will begin in earnest, and there is much talk of *building back better”. “Better” should here be seen not only in terms of improved earthquake resistance, but also in terms of space for more equal lives.