After the earthquakes – one year on

It is a year since the first of two huge earthquakes hit Nepal, causing the worst humanitarian disaster we had seen in a generation. Pragya Lamsal, WaterAid Nepal’s Communications Officer, remembers the terror of the event, reviews the repairs so far, and highlights that there is much left to be done.

News

25 Apr 2016

On 25 April 2015, a massive earthquake shook Nepal, affecting an estimated eight million people across the western and central regions. Approximately 9,000 people were killed, and more than 22,000 injured. The first anniversary of the earthquake is an opportunity to look at the work done to assist the victims, the challenges to recovery and reconstruction, and how we move forward.

Recalling the devastation

It was one of the worst natural disasters this generation had seen. People were enjoying Saturday afternoon, when suddenly everything began to shake, with increasing intensity. Buildings collapsed – destroyed or damaged.

In a few minutes, many historic landmarks and heritage sites, along with public and private houses, were reduced to rubble. The mountains and hills of earthquake-hit districts were encircled in clouds of dust. News reports of lives lost began to come in.

People rushed to clear piles of rubble, searching for survivors. The entire country was reeling with shock. Hospitals in all affected districts flooded with injured people, with thousands in need of immediate treatment for acute injuries. For weeks, hundreds of thousands spent their nights in the open, and schools remained closed for more than a month. The remote regions were hit hardest. It was a painful experience; an unforgettable disaster.

Toll on the WASH sector

The earthquake badly affected Nepal’s progress in access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), especially towards the target of attaining universal sanitation coverage by 2017. Around 1,570 water systems were destroyed, and 3,663 partially damaged, still requiring repair. More than 180,000 household toilets were destroyed, and more than 4,416 school latrines damaged.

According to the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment report, the net total value of damage and change in economic flows to the water and sanitation sector is estimated at NPR 11.4 billion at pre-disaster prices. Of this, the damage to infrastructure and physical assets is estimated at NPR 10.5 billion. Getting the damaged WASH infrastructure back to pre-earthquake status in earthquake-affected districts has been challenging. The total needed for recovery and reconstruction is estimated at NPR 18.1 billion.

Water security: a major concern

The earthquake adversely impacted water sources. More than 325 water sources in 14 quake-hit districts have dried up and water production of 617 sources has shrunk, according to the Department of Water Supply and Sewage (DWSS). There is a clear need to put tangible efforts into water security, and special attention should be paid to preserving water sources and improving access in rural communities.

The way ahead: effective disaster management

Nepal is prone to earthquakes – it lies in an active seismic zone. According to the Global Report on Disaster Risk, Nepal has the 11th highest earthquake risk in the world.

Nevertheless, Nepal’s disaster management system was too poorly developed to adequately deal with the 2015 quake. A better-developed disaster management system, in particular regarding disaster preparedness, response and recovery efforts, may have helped Nepal cope better. With Nepal prone to disasters, the Government should build a better system by improving information collection and sharing.

Himbahadur Ranamagar, 38, washing his hands at the tapstand near his home. Simjung, Gorkha, Nepal, Mar 2016 Himbahadur Ranamagar, 38, washing his hands at the tapstand near his home in Simjung, Gorkha.

Snail’s-pace reconstruction

Hundreds of thousands were left homeless by the earthquake, but so far very little reconstruction has been done. Many are still living in temporary shelters in desperate conditions.

Nepal’s Parliament endorsed the Reconstruction Authority Bill on 16 December 2015 and established the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA), which is responsible for spending the US$4.1 billion in donations pledged at a conference in June 2015.

The NRA, however, has been criticised for delays in disbursing aid. Victims have so far received just NPR 15,000 per household as immediate relief. The Government has promised NPR 200,000 for rebuilding each destroyed house, but people are yet to see this. Because of the delay in providing grants, many earthquake victims were forced to face a harsh winter living in temporary shelters or huts made from zinc sheets and tarpaulin.

If the pace of rescue and relief distribution remains as it is now, earthquake survivors will soon have to endure the monsoon season without proper homes. On the first anniversary, the Government must review what has been achieved so far and what remains to be done towards restoring people’s lives as well as infrastructure.

Looking ahead

The resilience shown by the Nepalese people during this disaster has been quite remarkable. Lives are being rebuilt out of the dust and rubble. The country needs to build a culture of disaster-risk awareness, and apply a ‘build back better’ approach. The Government must lead reconstruction works, and the process needs to be genuinely participatory to ensure accountability. Together we need to make Nepal a more resilient country.

Pragya Lamsal is Communications Officer at WaterAid Nepal. She tweets as @pragyalamsal.