Nepal earthquake: life one year on

Survivors of last year’s earthquakes in Nepal talk to us about their experiences, their hopes to rebuild, and why toilets are crucial to their plans.


25 Apr 2016 | AU
On 25 April 2015, the people of Simjung felt the earth shake beneath their feet.

Like millions across Nepal, they were experiencing the effects of a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. It would be followed by another, two weeks later.

A seven-hour-drive from the capital Kathmandu, Simjung is a network of villages scattered through mountainous terrain.

Before the earthquakes, the community had made huge strides in making sure no one had to go to the toilet outside. In December 2013, that goal was achieved – Simjung was declared ‘Open Defecation Free’, meaning everyone had access to a decent toilet, and was using it.

But last April, homes crumbled to the ground, water sources dried up and toilets were destroyed, leaving hundreds of people huddled in tents, at times sharing one toilet between them.

One year on, the picture is changing again. People have moved into temporary shelters and are making plans to rebuild their homes. And for many, central to those plans is their toilet.

Ujelimaya, 46

Ujelimaya, 46, at her newly built tin sheet home. Simjung, Gorkha, Nepal, Mar 2016
Ujelimaya outside her temporary home. It includes a new toilet that she built for herself using materials provided by WaterAid.

“Life before the earthquake was really simple. We had a house, cattle and a happy family. After the earthquake, everything turned to rubble.”

Ujelimaya and others from her village moved into tents just after the first earthquake. “There were 115 people living together in one cluster. Cooking and eating were a mess. We had problems like food poisoning, vomiting and dysentery,” she says.

“There weren’t enough toilets, so people went outside which made the situation even worse. It was unhealthy and shameful, but we had no choice. I always knew toilets were important but I didn’t realise how much until there was a shortage. ”

Bimaya, 39

Bimaya standing next to the toilet that she built after getting help from WaterAid Nepal. Simjung, Gorkha, Nepal, Mar 2016
Bimaya has rebuilt her toilet with support from WaterAid.

“My mother-in-law passed away in the earthquake. She got trapped among the logs that fell from the ceiling,” says Bimaya. 

“I was in Kathmandu at the time. We were on the seventh storey of a building and it shook us so badly we fainted. By the time I got back to the village, 12 days had passed and I could see nothing but damaged homes and structures.”

“We used to defecate outside but now we know the importance of being healthy. Using soap and having a dish-washing space help us keep our environment clean.”

Bishwas, 27

Bishwas standing next to his toilet. Simjung, Mar 2016
Bishwas' friends help him build his new toilet.  

Bishwas had been living in India with his wife and children for seven years when they decided to move back home to Simjung, just a few months before the earthquake struck.

“My son and daughter were both born in India. The work was not bad but we felt like coming home,” he explains. “During the earthquake my house and toilet collapsed. I had a grocery shop which was completely destroyed.”

Bishwas has since built a temporary shelter and is making plans for a permanent home. “I have a plan to build a new house, but before that I am building a toilet. Toilets keep our surroundings clean and keep us healthy.”

Binita, 24

Binita, 24, with her son, standing in front of her toilet. Simjung, Gorkha, Nepal, Mar 2016
Binita and her son in front of the toilet she built with materials supplied by WaterAid.

“I was on my way to vaccinate my youngest child when the ground started shaking. I started feeling dizzy and sick so I turned back, thinking of my home and family,” says Binita.

“Afterwards, having a healthy environment and somewhere to go to the toilet was a big challenge. While the whole village was living together we adjusted by sharing the only toilet left in the community.”

Humnath, 83

Humnath with his family members. Simjung, Gorkha, Nepal, Mar 2016
Humnath (left) with his wife Junumaya, his youngest son Purnachandra, daughter-in-law Sabita, and three grandchildren, Nikesh, 6 months, Nisan, 11 and Nitya, 9.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, two of Humnath’s grandchildren were rescued from the rubble of his home. Tragically his son Ishwori’s wife did not survive. 

In the initial chaos and sadness they left Simjung. “There was no happiness here,” Humnath told us.

One year on, his family have decided to return to rebuild their lives. “We’re settling down all over again. When we returned there was so much to be done. It was just the way we left it.”

"We want to build a concrete home to keep us safe. My son will build it. It will be a strong house with better foundations.”

The family have already built their toilet in the same spot where it used to stand. For them, it’s a priority: Humnath’s wife, Junumaya, was seriously injured by falling logs during the earthquake and has only recently started to walk again.

“Toilets are important for all of us,” Humnath says. “I belong to a time when people would run around without proper shoes and never thought of washing and cleaning as important, but I’ve come to realise it’s very important.”

Our work continues

Thanks to your incredible support, we’ve already reached over 160,000 people whose lives were devastated in the aftermath of the earthquakes.

Today, our work continues. Working with our local partners in Nepal, we’re working in some of the worst affected regions to make sure that communities have access to clean, safe water and toilets in their homes and schools.

Then and now: see the transformation in Simjung >