Nepal: One year after the quakes

After widespread losses during last year’s earthquakes, families are looking ahead to rebuild their lives and communities. What’s one of the things people want most? A way to earn a living.

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One terrible day last year, life as Mamata Karki knew it vanished. She was working in her corn field in Lamosanghu village when suddenly there was a loud bang and she thought a plane was falling from the sky. When she looked up, all the trees were shaking and her village, in the distance, was collapsing in a cloud of dust.

“The only thing I could think of was my child,” said Karki, who had left her son in the care of her father-in-law. But the ground was shaking so much, she wasn’t able to walk. By the time the motion subsided, all the roads and paths to home had turned to rubble.

That was the day—April 25—when a 7.6 magnitude quake rocked Nepal from an epicenter about 48 miles northwest of Kathmandu, the country’s capital. A second temblor hit the region two weeks later. Though Karki was reunited with her son soon after the first quake (“finally I saw my father-in-law holding onto my child and I felt like I could breathe again,” she recalled), the pair of temblors left nearly 9,000 people dead, damaged or destroyed about 850,000 homes, and robbed families of the hard-won security they had spent years building. The devastation won’t soon be forgotten.

With generous support from our donors and the expertise of our local partners, we were able to reach more than 300,000 people with emergency aid in the first three months after the disaster. We focused on providing food, water, shelter, latrines, and public health outreach.

I like the job I am doing because I know it is for the welfare of my entire village.

Bimala Balami
a villager who lives in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal

After a disaster, recovery takes time and investment. But communities often need support in the immediate aftermath of a crisis, too. You can help.

Working toward recovery

Now, the task has shifted to recovery. Many people, however, are struggling to find work, and those who have it report that incomes are lower than they were before the disaster. And for people who were disadvantaged before the quake—including women and ethnic minorities—the challenges they face have grown even harder in its wake.

“The only thing that is troubling me right now is money,” said Kamala Koirala, whose house has been uninhabitable since the quake. “I don’t want to ask for money, but can you provide people with jobs?”

Oxfam is working with villagers on a variety of programs aimed at helping them improve their means of earning an income. In Lamosanghu village in Sindhupalchok we have been distributing vouchers, worth 2,000 rupees each—just under $19—that are allowing households to buy the materials they need to re-start their kitchen gardens and small farms. By providing 5,000 people with vouchers, our goal is also to help kick-start the local economy, as those people will be turning to village store keepers to trade in their vouchers for tools.

“I’ve had almost 900 people come to my shop because of the vouchers being distributed,” said Netra Parajuli, a 37-year-old local trader, noting that hoes and watering cans have been among the most popular items. “Before the earthquake, my family had three houses and a good business and they were all destroyed that day.”

For Gana Butrai, who has no land to farm and relies instead on the earnings from a small shop, the 4,000-rupee grant—a little less than $38—she received from Oxfam to help her business has made all the difference.

“Sales are better than before,” she said. “I am really happy right now. I can see now that there is a prospect for my future. . . .For now, everything I am earning in the shop I am putting back into the shop as an investment.”

Cash and community improvements

Investment is also at the heart of Oxfam’s cash-for-work programs, which engage villagers in short-term community improvement projects, like the construction of water lines and sturdy foot paths, in exchange for a wage. In the Dachi Nkali municipality in the Kathmandu Valley, for instance, the replacement of a series of irrigation channels ruined by an earthquake-triggered landslide has helped to put much-needed cash in the pockets of women. Oxfam engaged groups of 30 of them for 15 days to build channels that will bring water to the rice, wheat, peas, and cucumbers that locals grow. The women earned 575 rupees a day—or about $5.40—for their labor.

“I like the job I am doing because I know it is for the welfare of my entire village,” said one of the workers, Bimala Balami, 27. “I have done this kind of work in the past because often when the monsoon hits, the mountains turn into a landslide and whenever that happens the people from the village come together and help build the channels again.”

Balami planned to spend her earnings on two essentials: schooling for her children and repairs to her house.

“It has been really helpful for women in the village because now they know they can provide for their families with their earnings,” she said.

In Ghairung, Ghorka, teams of men and women worked on a project to rebuild a three-mile trail that connected a health center, a local market, and two villages one of which—Jhyamir—saw 50 percent of its houses completely destroyed, with only two that remained safe to live in after the quake.

“This pathway is very useful for us,” said Mitra Koirala, 55, one of the workers who was earning 510 rupees a day (about $4.80)—money that would help him meet his food needs for the next six months. “We use it to reach the market and people that walk along the path have to carry big loads.”

And he was happy to be working with women.

“Women are bringing the stones and men are building the pathway,” said Koirala. “We can get the work done together and the women can earn some money, too.”

Altogether, Oxfam is engaging more than 22,000 families in cash-for-work initiatives that are helping to rebuild community services.

Additional credits: Oxfam staffers in the field contributed to this piece. The opening photo is of Bimala Balami, taken by Kieran Doherty/Oxfam.

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