The ground began to move
Just before midday on 25 April 2015, Saira was at her family home in Jhingate village when the region was struck by a massive earthquake.
As the ground began to shake violently, Saira ran. She ran out of sheer terror. She could hear the upper floors of her house crashing down, threatening to bury her alive. She scrambled out into the open. A moment’s relief was cut short by a sudden blow to the head.
Knocked unconscious, she awoke some minutes later and turned to see that her home had been reduced to a pile of rubble. The earthquake had destroyed everything - food, shelter, tools for farming - and with them it had crushed the woman who until moments ago had been quietly preparing food in the kitchen. The earthquake had killed her grandmother.
Effects of the earthquake
The effects of the earthquake were devastating. Saira’s grandmother was one of over 8,500 victims killed as the tremendous force of the quake tore apart buildings and flattened entire villages.
Sushil was born in Bhaktapur, a city in Nepal’s Kathmandu valley. He runs a restaurant in south-east London and spoke to the DEC shortly after the earthquake about the unique challenges his country faced.
[bq]“A lot of people are still buried. The media doesn’t know about the remote areas because nobody’s been there.”[/bq]
A quick glance at a map of Nepal is enough to understand what he meant. This is a mountainous country with limited infrastructure, making any journey difficult, even between closely situated towns and villages.
[bq]“The government doesn’t have enough resources to access all these areas,” Sushil explains, “so the extent of the damage is probably worse than we think… a lot worse.”[/bq]
A picture of destruction
Sushil was right. Along with the many thousands injured, homes had been destroyed, schools reduced to rubble, water systems made useless and medical services wiped out.
One person who lost everything was Khadanand Bhatta, an 80-year-old widower from Ashrang village, located just 26 miles from the earthquake’s epicentre. Before the earthquake, Khadanand spent his days tending his small garden, chatting with his fellow villagers and awaiting the visits of his daughter and grandchildren. His way of life was typical in rural Nepal, where farming terraces curve smoothly around the steep mountainsides, like contours on a map.
When the earthquake struck, his home along with everything in it was destroyed.
One lucky escape
Stories of lucky escape show how close the earthquake came to claiming even more lives than it did. One survivor was Swetchnya Tamraker, a student from Kathmandu, who was studying for her exams in her third-floor bedroom when the earthquake began.
A second blow
With the relief effort under way and hope starting to return, a second tragedy struck. On 12 May, only three weeks after the first earthquake, a second huge tremor rocked the country, raising the death toll by some 200 people. With the earthquake’s epicentre now to the east of the capital, houses that had withstood the first onslaught and its aftershocks finally succumbed to the force of the second.
Outpouring of support
Since the ousting of the monarchy in 2008, Nepal has been caught up in a period of political instability. Given the country’s poverty, challenging terrain, patchy communications network and poor healthcare provision, the crisis overwhelmed the government's ability to respond.
Faced with this disaster, the Nepal Government appealed to the international community for support.
Their call was answered. Twenty-four hours after the earthquake struck, the DEC took the decision to launch an appeal to support its member agencies who had swung into action. Eleven of the agencies had already been present in Nepal, working on long-term development and disaster preparedness projects.
Very soon after the earthquake, the DEC member agencies were coordinating relief projects from inside the country. Temporary shelters were erected in town squares for those too terrified by aftershocks to go home and for the thousands who no longer had a home to return to.
Trucks and helicopters, loaded with tarpaulins, provisions and survival kits, headed up into the mountains.
Within a week
Within a week, the UK public had donated a huge sum of money - over £31 million.
The money helped feed, shelter, support and care for several million people affected by the disaster.
As testament to the resilience of the Nepali people, many markets re-opened within two weeks of the first earthquake. These local markets are an established distribution network from which local people can buy the items they most need. Communities are often best placed to judge what is needed after a disaster, so supporting them financially is crucial. The local markets system was by no means flawless but, given the wider context, it was a great start.
The giving of cash grants may be a surprising way to support those affected by the disaster, but in fact these grants have a double pay-off: they stimulate the local economy and give people more autonomy in their recovery.
Moreover, for the many people in Nepal who survive on their home-grown produce, the cash helped to quickly rebuild the livelihoods they had lost. Using the money to replace tools and seeds, small-scale farmers were able to replant and limit the impact of food shortages.
To overcome the difficulties of distributing cash across Nepal’s challenging terrain, DEC member agency Save the Children partnered with Hello Paisa. This innovative finance provider was able to make use of mobile phone technology to get money into the hands of those who needed it most.
While mobile banking services are common in some developing countries, as they allow secure access to financial services, this was one of the first times they have been used on such a wide scale as part of an emergency response.
Money can only do so much when buildings and infrastructure are badly damaged. More than half of the funds raised by the UK public were funnelled into essential shelter provision and masonry training.
Dom Hunt, a rapid response worker for Concern, remembers noting the pattern of damage when he first arrived in the country.
[bq]“You could see that villages near the top of ridges and those near rivers were terribly damaged, but that the ones in the middle weren’t as badly hit.”[/bq]
Geography and physics provide an explanation for these varying levels of damage. The houses built on the tops of mountains were subjected to more intense shaking during the earthquakes. Those down in the valleys are built on sedimentary soil, which magnified and reflected the shockwaves, leading to subsidence and collapse.
[bq]“In some areas, 95% of the village was flattened. You could smell decomposing bodies under the rubble.”[/bq]
In Nepali culture, men shave off their hair to signify a death in the family. Dom reached several villages to find every man with his head shaved; a stark record of the grim death toll.
With hundreds of thousands of homes wiped out, the need for rebuilding was acute. One enterprising mother, Shantha Shrestha, turned rebuilding into a business. She lives in Machgam village with her husband and four teenage children.
Their home was mostly spared from serious damage and, a few months after the earthquake, Shantha and her husband were trained in safe shelter construction by DEC member agency Christian Aid.
[bq]“Thank you so much for the training you have provided. This has been the difference between happiness and sadness."[/bq]
They set up a workshop next door to their home, receiving commissions from enthusiastic local and not-so-local villagers, and providing windows and doors at affordable prices, even for the relatively poor. Investment from a government house-building initiative now looks set to cement their business plan, and Shantha and her husband are in turn beginning to train up their fellow villagers.
A few miles away, Khadka Bahadur Rana was left in a desperate situation when his grocery shop, located at the bottom of a mountainside, was destroyed. Not only had he been the sole provider for his family, he now found himself without a home for his many dependants.
When the DEC visited him to find out how he had got on with CAFOD’s "build back safer” training, he was found hard at work, knee-high in mud and cement, smiling. His delight at being able to use his new skills to rebuild his house was plain to see, and a common sight around the Nepali countryside.
One innovative project was run at a roadside in the badly hit Gorkha district, close to the earthquake’s epicentre. Through practical demonstrations and hands-on experience, people were shown how traditional building techniques could be adapted and strengthened to make homes more earthquake-resistant.
Khadanand's new home
Elsewhere, locals learned advanced carpentry skills and how to construct safer shelters. Khadanand, the elderly widower who lost everything, now lives in a new home, built for him by his fellow villagers.
Recognising his vulnerability, they all came to help, rebuilding his home with reinforced joints to give it a much better chance of withstanding a further shock – and strengthening their own sense of community too.
Challenges and rewards
Challenges and rewards
The realities of delivering aid are often tough. In July, two months after the first earthquake, the Nepal Government told international aid agencies to work through local partner organisations. This had been the policy before the disaster, but the government had lifted it for several weeks to help speed up the emergency response. With most local non-governmental organisations in Nepal affiliated to a political party, the policy raised the issue of perceived bias on the part of the international agencies.
The agencies therefore had to scrutinise their partnerships in even more detail than usual. While this helped counter the perception of the foreign providers of aid imposing their worldview on the Nepali people, it also led to many lengthy negotiations between the parties.
One example of a successful partnership was when Oxfam teamed up with Women for Human Rights (WHR), a charity working to improve the status of women in Nepal. In this profoundly patriarchal society, Nepali women are often discriminated against. The situation is particularly bad for widows, as a single woman is viewed as an ill omen.
Together, Oxfam and WHR built women’s shelters in six of the worst affected districts, where they provided counselling and referral services to women and girls. Tearfund also gave five-day training sessions on trauma counselling, gender-based violence and trafficking to help women tackle issues within their communities.
Slow and steady progress
A few months on from the earthquake, Saleh Saeed, Chief Executive of the DEC, took his own journey to Nepal, travelling through the monsoon across difficult terrain to see the work of the member agencies.
During his visit to the Tistung district, Saleh listened to one villager's tale, a story common to people across the country.
[bq]“Sadly, their old water source was affected by the earthquake and had become contaminated. One lady explained how she had to walk an hour downhill to collect dirty water from a stream, and then struggle back with 16 litres of that water on her back for her family.”[/bq]
By the time of Saleh’s visit, Tearfund were working with local government representatives to identify a new, more reliable water source for the village.
Trucks of fresh water had helped meet some of the demand in the immediate aftermath of the earthquakes, but more needed to be done. Within a month of the disaster, Christian Aid had installed enough water purification units to support 70,000 people and, together with Save the Children and World Vision, they reconstructed over 300 wells and water systems.
Feeding the young
One of the most vulnerable groups in all the chaos was, of course, children. Whether it was a lack of food, exposure to dirty water or the interruption of education, the disruption caused by the earthquakes disproportionately affected the lives of the young.
There was a real risk of malnutrition across the country once the earthquakes had obliterated food stores and cut off supplies. Food parcels, containing lentils, rice and cooking oil, along with pots, utensils and solar lamps, were sent to tens of thousands of families. Malnutrition was prevented in many areas, but the extent of food shortages meant some still went hungry.
Six months after the event, DEC member agencies had already treated 100,000 children for this life-threatening condition.
Back to school
Getting children back into education was another priority. School buildings lay in ruins, or were damaged enough to pose a serious threat to life. In Tistung district alone, eight of the twelve schools were left unusable.
So member agencies erected temporary learning centres. These bamboo-walled buildings, with corrugated galvanised iron sheets for roofs, offer a safe space for children to continue their education. But they are only a stopgap. In the medium term, new school buildings will need to be constructed, using the earthquake-resistant techniques shared by non-governmental organisations over the past year.
How the money helped
Dreaming about tomorrow
Saira, who we met earlier fleeing her collapsing home, found work at one of these temporary learning centres through Christian Aid. The tragic death of her grandmother had been followed by her father’s sudden paralysis and loss of employment.
But thanks to the temporary learning centre, Saira’s younger siblings were able to continue their education and she soon realised her dream: to become a teacher of Nepali and health studies.
For the DEC member agences, the work continues. Now only twelve months into the three year relief and recovery plan, the DEC hopes that many more Nepali people will be able to share in Saira's bright hopes for the future.
Thanks to you
Launching the appeal
On the morning of Saturday 25 April 2015, news broke of a serious earthquake in Nepal. As a full picture of the extensive devastation became clear, the DEC took the decision to launch a nationwide fundraising appeal at midday on the Monday.
The Nepal Earthquake Appeal was given widespread coverage across mainstream media, including all the main TV channels. As thousands of messages of support for the Nepali people began to appear on social media, it was clear that the UK public were eager to help as much as they could.
Nearly £8m was raised on Tuesday 28 April alone. Our major appeal film featuring Joanna Lumley led to a huge spike in donations. Other celebrities – including Daniel Craig, Amanda Holden and Bear Grylls – also helped support the appeal.
Companies across the UK, large and small, lent a hand with bucket collections or organised their own fundraising activities to support the Appeal.
Our individual fundraisers were also amazing, spreading the word and raising money across the UK. One inspiring seven-year-old, Alasdair from Scotland, was determined to do his bit to help the people of Nepal.
One of our star fundraisers, Julius, shared a personal message explaining why he felt moved to raise money for the Nepal Earthquake Appeal.
A message from the DEC
[bq]"It's thanks to your generosity that the DEC, through its member agencies, is able to fund life-saving work.
Your money goes to the agencies best placed to save lives and rebuild communities.
Your willingness to help means we can achieve our common goal of being there for those in need when disaster strikes. We're strongest when we work together. Thank you."
Saleh Saeed, Chief Executive of the DEC[/bq]
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With thanks to the DEC member agencies
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