One Year After
A year ago, the death toll of the Nepal earthquakes was 9,000. Eight million have been affected, and an estimated 2.8 million people have been displaced from their homes. In Dhading, one of the worst affected districts, approximately 680 lives were claimed and 92 percent of houses severely damaged.
Picture clusters of rudimentary homes made of grey stone with patchwork red and blue corrugated tin roofs nestled amongst the terraced fields, and perched on the side of an ancient mountain. On the day of the earthquake, houses collapsed into piles of rubble and the towering sides of mountains were swept into the valleys below.
When two major aftershocks hit barely two weeks after the first quake and within half an hour of each other, the death toll climbed, buildings still standing toppled, and landslides devastated mountainous regions such as this. Most people there are subsistence farmers, and the earthquakes laid waste to crops, seeds, and livestock. Livelihoods were destroyed.
During the disaster, the international community leapt to its feet. The United Nations immediately dipped into its emergency relief fund, many countries pledged financial and personnel support, and hundreds of nonprofit entities sent money and volunteers. SIM and United Mission to Nepal (UMN) – already partners in Nepal for more than five years – joined the throng that hurried to bring aid to the struggling nation.
For over 20 years UMN has worked in Dhading to promote education, health and nutrition, and improve food availability – focusing their earthquake response in this district seemed natural. When rebuilding and the 2.5-year Dhading Disaster Response Programme (DDRP) are completed UMN will resume its usual community work. SIM contributed 150,000 USD to UMN’s disaster response which has encompassed both immediate relief needs (Phase 1) and long-term rebuilding efforts (Phase 2).
Nepal is one of Asia’s historically poorest nations, though it has made significant progress in recent years. In 2006, the country formally ended a decade-long civil war between the government and the Communist Party in Nepal. In 2008, Nepal became a democracy and, in the years following the civil war, has taken big steps towards development. The quake not only halted that progress, it sent it backwards.
Then six months after the earthquakes the Nepal government adopted a new constitution and protests and strikes led to the border with India being blockaded, effectively stopping the flow of resources such as fuel, food, medicine, and raw materials needed for rebuilding. The blockade was lifted in February this year after hampering the post-earthquake rebuilding efforts for five precious months. The road back to “normal” looks longer than ever. Relief was quick, but rebuilding is a slow process that will take more investment.
The sounds of hammers clamoring, stone on stone, and voices shouting rise into the late afternoon air as Nepali men make a new wall in a damaged house, sealing the stones with mud, rebuilding.
“I never thought this village would be resettled again in the same place,” said Shree. After the earthquake many villagers fled, seeking safer regions. “More people are coming back to the village and it seems like life is returning to normal.” It is Shree’s house that’s being rebuilt, with the help of his father and neighbors. Shree paid some of the laborers, others are helping because, quite simply, they are a community and they have always helped each other. Perma is their word for it – if you help a neighbor, they will help you in return.
Monsoon season will begin in June, and there is pressure to finish as many homes as possible before the heavy rains begin. Some, dubious of the efforts and anxious that another earthquake will undo any rebuilding, remain in temporary shelters.
“We cannot wait for the government, we have to rebuild our homes now,” Shree says.
UMN house rebuilding efforts will be directed to the 1,100 poorest households in Dhading district. In addition to reconstructing houses, UMN has empowered the villagers through mason trainings that educate them about building more earthquake resilient homes, distributing seeds and tools so that they can replant their fields, and providing livestock such as goats so that they can earn income. UMN will also prioritize turning temporary learning centers into permanent ones so that children in the communities can resume their education.
“Not only have physical walls fallen apart, people’s lives have also fallen apart,” comments Gabriel Jens, director of SIM Nepal. “Rebuilding lives, rebuilding homes and infrastructure will take years.”
Nepal is still shaking. Shaking from aftershocks that continue to this day, shaking from the grief of destruction and loss. Some look back and see death – life lost. Others look back and see life preserved. Pastor Butel thinks of how his error that day, forgetting to bring the communion elements to church, kept his congregation from harm because the service finished early.
“It’s a strange plan of God. He has saved many of us and that’s what we understand,” he says.
“A year on, people still feel hopeless and without help they cannot survive,” says Gabriel Jens. “But the church is in the midst of the people, giving them a message of hope. We need more workers in this part of God’s harvest field. As people in the earthquake affected areas are hungry for God, the church is growing.
“We so often shift our thinking to another disaster, but the people in the former disaster are still in that disaster,” he says. “There are Nepalis still living in tents and under tarpaulins. Let us not forget those still suffering. Continue to pray for Nepal.”
— Denise Poon