Earthquake Reconstruction Update – April 2017

It has been almost two years since the devastating earthquakes of 2015 hit Nepal, destroying 500,000 homes and taking nearly 9,000 lives. Like nearly everyone in Nepal we at dZi, along with our local partner communities in the remote mountain districts of Khotang and Solukhumbu,  are still putting the pieces back together.

Our earthquake recovery plan focuses upon reconstructing local schools that were damaged by the earthquakes and providing income generation opportunities for families that have lost their homes. We set an ambitious goal of ensuring that all children in our partner communities are studying in safe classrooms. This meant rebuilding 28 schools in total (reduced from our initial goal of 31, due to the limited presence of other donors and subsequent assessments of all schools during our feasibility study).

In 2016 we finished rebuilding 9 schools, and our goal for 2017 is to complete another 8 using new Light Gauge Steel technology. We are well on our way and for some, like Shishu High School in Maheswori, the community started rebuilding early and has already completed half of the new classrooms.

Shishu High School, Maheswori

In the photo below a local community member transports Light Gauge Steel (LGS) trusses to the construction site of Sidda Kanya Lower Secondary School in Rakha.

Between January and March 2017, community members like him from across our partner communities have transported thousands of these LGS pieces from the nearest roads to the school sites. Transportation by foot takes half a day for the schools situated closest to the end of the dirt roads, and for others it can take up to a day and a half.

The LGS trusses being transported by tractors on the new dusty roads of Khotang. These pieces are for the Himalayan Primary School in Sungdel.

LGS is a new technology in Nepal although it is popular in many other countries for its lightness, ease of assembly, and earthquake safety. Another advantage of this technology is that the whole structure is portable – we can shift it easily from one place to another when required. This is especially important for schools in the hills and mountains where the ground might give out or where landslides or floods might endanger the schools and students.

We plan to finish the majority of construction before the monsoon rains begin in Nepal. The biggest challenge so far has been the transportation of the LGS trusses to the school sites. At this point though, all of the parts have either reached the construction sites or are en route, and the trusses for the last LGS school will be transported within the next week. Check out the video below to see how rebar required for our school construction is transported on foot by community members.

 

Community members have also been busy collecting local materials like gravel and stone for the schools, while mules are currently transporting the remaining construction materials such as plywood, glass wool, cement, and sand. People in these communities are working rapidly to complete the schools as soon as possible. We are concerned about the upcoming local elections, which are scheduled to be held on May 14. If the elections take place as planned, they may disrupt or slow down our construction activities.

Construction site of Himalayan Primary School in Sotang
Mules transporting external materials like cement and sand
Local community members carrying stones to the construction site of Basuki School in Gudel

Our technicians Raj Kumar, Chhatra and Subindra are working around the clock to train and oversee local masons in using this new technology. There have been several times when we had to redo a section, but overall this technology has been really well-received by the communities and readily adopted. In the following photos, our technician Subindra guides and teaches the construction crew how to assemble the LGS frames.

LGS fitting in Siddakanya School

After the completion of all 8 schools, we will have built more than 40 classrooms that will allow around 500 students who are currently studying in vulnerable or temporary learning centers to move into new, bright earthquake safe classrooms.

Students and teachers in front of the Temporary Learning Center in Panchakanya School, Susla. We are rebuilding this school now.
A student of Panchakanya School stands in front of her damaged school room. This is one of the 8 schools that we are rebuilding currently.

Livelihoods Support

We also provided direct support to 419 families that lost everything during the earthquake. Instead of providing direct handouts, we wanted to give the family members an opportunity to recover on their own terms and to have a sustainable means of support. We extended three types of support to these households: free agricultural materials and trainings; free seeds and training for market vegetable crops; and focused training and seedlings for high-value cash crops including cardamon, ginger, turmeric and hot peppers. 

 A local farmer with a batch of cardamon seedlings

Tarasur Rai lost his home during the earthquake and was left with little option to feed his family and rebuild his home. Already he has earned about $200 in new income from selling ginger. He has also begun to experiment with potato farming this year and has become successful in harvesting a lot of potatoes. He hopes to earn more than $400 from the potatoes this year alone. Pictured is Tarasur in his attic where he has stored all the potatoes and we can also see the massive crack that was formed in his house by the quake.

 

Punarsingh Rai lives alone, having lost his wife and family. Inspired by our support and with technical help from our staff, he has already started earning income from many of his farm products. He made around $100 from bitter gourd sales alone. Here in the photo, he poses with his pile of turmeric that he recently harvested. We supported him with turmeric seed as part of the earthquake package. He will earn about $100 from the turmeric this year.

 

While these numbers are only in the hundreds of dollars, this is a massive amount in the current context of Nepal, and a good start in terms of financial and personal empowerment!

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Water Means the World to Nepal’s Remote Communities.

Nepal has some of the most plentiful water resources on the planet, with the watersheds flowing south from the massive Himalayan chain supporting far over a billion people. Ironically, many settlements on Nepal’s remote hillsides suffer greatly for lack of clean drinking water sources. As Nepal’s population has grown, people have migrated and settled in more remote and dryer locations.

 

Villages in mountainous side of Nepal are often perched high above in ridges

The lack of a clean water source can have a profound impact upon the health and prosperity of a community. Hours are spent daily by women and children fetching water, basic hygiene practices such as hand washing laundry becomes difficult or impossible, and drinking from stagnant or dirty water sources greatly increases incidence of water-borne diseases.

For these reasons, we frequently receive requests from our community partners to construct gravity-fed water systems that bring clean water downhill from clean spring sources – sometimes many miles away. The engineering for these projects is simple in theory, but can be quite complex in practice. dZi provide technical engineering and financial support, while community members contribute large amounts of local labor for the construction and long-term maintenance of the projects.

Over the past year, we completed four new drinking water systems that have brought clean water to over 100 households, and over 500 people, for the first time. This current year, we have six more projects in the pipeline, with construction set to begin as soon as the monsoon rains end.

When we found 15 years old Nahemiya Rai from Fataksi village washing vegetables at a brand new water tap, we asked her if the water project had helped her in any way. This Grade 9 student told us that her life has been much easier after the drinking water system was completed in her village. Last year, before the system was installed, she had to spend hours each day fetching water from a distant spring. Livestock, birds, and other animals also drank water from the same open source. She was repulsed by how dirty the water was – but her family had no other choice.

Nahemiya Rai washing vegetables in one of the new taps built in her village.

Nahemiya recalls how her 3 year old baby sister had fallen ill with diarrhea. She was also often late for school after fetching water for the family in the mornings. Just getting to school for Nahemiya involved walking for ninety minutes each way, and she would often stop on the way to wash her hands and face because there wasn’t enough water at home. Washing her clothes – including her school uniforms – was also almost impossible.  “Now everything has changed, I can go to school on time, I can clean and wash myself whenever I like. And I can devote so much more time to my studies” she says.

Nahemiya and her family using the local tap in a number of ways.

We also met up with Rupdhani Rai — Nahemiya’s 87 year-old neighbor. She was busy cleaning her young grandson at the tap.  Rupdhani says that before this drinking water project, people in her village had to wake up very early in the morning to go fetch water from a spring which took at least a half hour to reach. If she arrived too late in the morning, after everyone else had already lined up, she would return home empty handed or, worse yet, be forced to fill her containers with silty and filthy water at the bottom of the puddle.  But now, with the new water project, things have changed for the better. Rupdhani says that in her old age, she has been able to use as much water as she wants along with her grandchildren. The new tap has empowered her, in her golden years, to provide for herself and her grandchildren — to stay clean without having to worry about making it to the water source early enough every morning.

Rupdhani with her grandson

 

The story repeats in the villages of  Hurlam and Thulu where we also completed projects last year. When we were visiting Hurlam to monitor the progress on the new water system, we met Mani Tamang on the banks of the Rog River – almost an hour’s walk away from her village. She was carrying a backpack in which she had brought some midday snacks and some dirty clothes – as finishing her washing took so long, that she needed to bring along her own food.

Mani Tamang with her backpack of food and dirty clothes

Mani then would make her way back to her home in Hurlam, a rigorous one hour uphill climb for her.

Before the water project, Mani had to make the rigorous one-hour climb up and down this steep trail just to fetch water.

Now Mani no longer has to go through this ordeal as a tap stand has been constructed right alongside her home.

Dhanmaya Tamang, a resident of Thulu, some 2 hours walk away from Hurlam also shared her thoughts on the new water system in her village. Although the water source in Thulu was only a twenty minute walk away from the village, it was extremely filthy and Dhanmaya often found dead bugs and animals in the water source.  Again, lacking any other options, the community was forced to use this obviously unsanitary water source.  It was bad enough that when guests from other villages came to visit, they would refrain from eating and drinking the local water for fear of getting sick themselves. Now, Dhanmaya has clean and healthy water piped from a protected spring at her doorstep.

To ensure that the water remains this way, Dhanmaya  and her community have formed a user group and each household pays a small amount monthly into a maintenance fund. They also get together to periodically clean the cement tanks and to maintain the system. With help from dZi, the community has also registered the water source and water system with the local Government – thus making the system part of the local infrastructure, and eligible for Government funds to maintain and repair. All dZi projects follow this model for sustainability.

Dhanamaya Tamang from Thulu fills her water vessel from the new tap.

 

An earlier photo from Thulu where 12 year old Radhika Tamang showed us where she fills her household water, along with close up of the source she showed us.
10 year old Manika Tamang from Thulu washes her school uniform in the new tap.
Mani and her neighbor crushing stones to make gravel required for the water tanks. This was part of their voluntary labor contribution for the project.
We make sure to involve the community in each process of the project. Here, our local NGO partner member is explaining budget details through a public audit banner in Hurlam.

We hope you’ve appreciated the stories of how something as simple as water can make such a tremendous difference in people’s lives. To learn even more about our drinking water projects, please also read our webstory “Bringing Home the Mountain Water” about the Nimchola Drinking Water Project that we constructed in 2013.

If you would like to support drinking water projects, or any of the other myriad ways in which we help Nepal’s most remote communities achieve a lasting change –  please visit www.dZi.org/donate

 

 

 

 

A small measure goes a long way!

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Girls do their Saturday washing in the public tap in Sotang (photo taken before the earthquake).

Sotang is the chief trade and commercial hub for the areas where we work in the northeastern valleys of Solukhumbu district. The weekly Friday market alone draws over 5,000 people from the neighboring villages including from Gudel, Chheskam and Bung. The market itself is held in the main center of Sotang called Shivatar (Fustel in the original Nachhiring Rai languague).


In 2013, our local NGO partner in Sotang realized that there was a dire need to build a public toilet and drinking water system in the market area if they were to maintain their Open Defecation Free (ODF) status. They sent us a proposal, and we supported the construction of a 4-room public toilet and a public tap stand adjacent to the Friday market spot.

During the weekend, the toilet is primarily used by market goers. On other days, the local school makes use of it. The school and the market management committee jointly clean and maintains the toilet now.

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The Public Toilet just after the construction was finished in December 2013.

The public tap stand has been providing free and clean drinking water to the market goers and community members. Local residents close to the market center use it for drinking, cleaning and washing.

Sotang was heavily affected by the recent earthquake, and one of the most impacted communities in the entire district. There were dry landslides in many places of Sotang during the second quake on May 12, which were followed by many landslides once the monsoon rains saturated the already-weakened soils. Many houses were destroyed, and the public tap stand in the Shivatar market also fell victim to this.

shivatar WSP damaged (2)
The public tap stand was almost swept away by landslide triggered by continuous rainfall.

The landslide exposed all the buried pipelines and also fractured the land where the main reserve tank was situated. The water supply and the toilet are fed by the same source located a few meters above the tapstand, and immediate repair was imperative. Otherwise both the toilets and taps would have been destroyed.

The local community was prompt to respond, and quickly raised 20,000 rupees ($200 USD) to repair the pipes and divert the landslide. This cost  was kept low because many community members pitched in and worked despite the heavy rains.

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The repair work shown by arrows. The reserve tank is located at the top- now surrounded by protective fences.

 

Sibatar WSP repaired
Recent picture of the tap and the reserve tank after the repairing was complete.

“Not only did we repair the damage, we also cleaned the whole market area that day”, says Prithvi Bahadur Thapa the chair of the Market Management Committee.

Handing over projects and ensuring local buy-in is the most difficult aspect of our work. We are proud that the community in Sotang identified and solved this problem on their own, despite all of the other challenges caused by the earthquake. This demonstrates that they truly own and value the project and while the overall budget for this initiative was small – what it represents is invaluable.

TLC: Teach, Love, Care!

While Nepal is no longer in the news, here Monsoon season has begun and our partner communities, in the wake of the recent earthquakes, are preparing for an intense and prolonged precipitation. Amazingly, roughly 80% of Nepal’s annual precipitation falls from June to September. We, accordingly, are going full speed with responding to the most urgent need of the community right now- creating safe shelter for students to study in during monsoon. And there comes our buzz word of the season TLC or Temporary Learning Centers.

Our initial relief effort after the Earthquakes focused on getting 3300 tarps into our working areas of Khotang and Solukhumbu, including two neighboring areas where we had not worked before.

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Mule train carries tarpaulins to Bung and Chheskam in Solukhumbu

Until last week, our team members were scattered around every corner of our working area, sitting down with community members to listen to their pain, and to ask about their plans for recovering from the terrible earthquakes. One serious issue is rebuilding homes.

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People with raised hands have their houses completely destroyed by the Quake

 

Many villagers have initiated the process without any external support, with neighbors helping each other out. But most people expressed that if the Government or other organizations could teach them Earthquake safe building technology, they wouldn’t have to build weak homes like before. They want to build safe homes, but just don’t know how. Since we have been building earthquake resistant schools since 2012, it has helped many local masons learn the technology. We hope that further expanding our school construction to almost 20 schools will help many more village masons learn this important, life saving technology. But for now, we have to establish temporary centers for all these damaged schools as the rain will make any other kind of construction activity impossible.

We and our local partner NGOs have been busy purchasing and transporting bulk quantities of roofing tin to help in the construction of Temporary Learning Centers (TLCs). Unfortunately, over 30 schools in our working areas were significantly damaged or destroyed in the April and May earthquakes. We feel one of the most important things dZi Foundation can do in the short term is to ensure children get back in school as quickly and safely as possible. Here is a photo of just one out of many such damaged schools which need urgent attention.

The Shree Chandra School in Sungdel, Khotang looks like an average rural Nepali school: old and dilapidated, but usable. Sadly, this school has suffered considerable damage from the two powerful quakes, although this is not visible straightaway. The quakes caused major cracks in all the inside walls, while bits of wall and ceiling continue to fall down.

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Collage showing the exterior and interior of Shree Chandra School

Our field team including Civil Technician Rajkumar Rai has been walking from one village to the next  assessing damage in schools, and supervising the construction of TLCs.

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Our Technician Rajkumar(L) shares an early morning tea with a young community member. The tent is his home.

 

The first TLC was finished in Lidhunga Primary School of Sotang on June 14, where over two dozen participants from our different working areas came to learn the technique and design from Rajkumar. Now, these participants have gone back to their villages and started the process of construction.  Rajkumar will travel to each of these places to supervise and monitor the work.

TLC1
The complete Temporary Learning Center (Green roof) in Lidhunga with the damaged school building (red roof)

With TLCs up and children back in school safe and dry, the next step for community members will be to knock down the old school building and clear the lot. As soon as the Monsoon season ends, we will begin rebuilding many schools using earthquake resistant technology, which will help teach villagers how to rebuild their homes similarly.

As of today (June 19),  community members have finished TLCs for two more damaged schools in Sotang. We now have 3 down, and only 34 more to go!

Here are some more photos of the process involved in setting up a TLC.

Structure of TLC
Bamboo poles or wooden poles go first as the primary reinforcement
TLC2
Then follows bamboo frames for roof and walls.

 

TLC 1
Then finally, roofing tins all over the bamboo frame except in doors and windows.
5. TLC Using at Ja ja at sotang rok
Classes run as usual inside a TLC in Solukhumbu.