Rising from the rubble of the Nepal earthquake

By Divya Amladi
Muna Tamang Giri with her sons Rajesh (center) and Aukit at their home in Sindhupalchowk, Nepal, where Oxfam installed water and sanitation facilities after the country’s 2015 earthquake. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/OxfamA

In April 2015, when a devastating earthquake hit Nepal, Muna Tamang Giri was pregnant and days away from giving birth. With the third anniversary of the earthquake approaching, we followed up with her to see how she is recovering from the disaster and creating a better life for her family. 

Reporting by Kate Bensen, Oxfam Australia

On April 25, 2015, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake shook Nepal, killing nearly 9,000 people and damaging about 850,000 homes.

Muna Tamang Giri was nine months pregnant when that quake hit. Ten days later, she went into labor and was rushed to the hospital. Though her son Rajesh was born without complications, her energy was depleted by the time she had to push, and he had to be removed using vacuum support. 

Giri was there on May 12, feeling alone and afraid, when the second earthquake hit. That night, as the ground rumbled, she was too weak to flee. “Since I was not well, I stayed in the building,” she recalls. “The person looking after me stayed back, but others ran away.”

The earthquakes devastated Sindhupalchowk District, where Giri lives. But even before the earthquakes, it was one of the least developed areas of Nepal. In those days, Giri says it took her up to five hours a day to collect water. 

The earthquakes damaged more than 46 percent of the area’s water supply systems. It was difficult to find clean water; Giri says it was especially hard to wash her newborn’s clothes. Soon, their water source dried up.

Within months, the livestock in Sindhupalchowk began to perish. According to Giri, so many animals died in such a short time that the carcasses were not properly buried. As a result, there was an epidemic of diarrhea. Her nephew contracted dysentery and had to be hospitalized in Kathmandu; with the roads blocked, it took a day’s journey to reach the hospital.

As the stench of dead animals filled the air, Giri says the area became uninhabitable.

Thankfully, help was on the way.

Delivering emergency assistance and long-term solutions

Muna Tamang Giri collects water from the tap Oxfam installed near her home in Sindhupalchowk, Nepal. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Oxfam

Oxfam and our partner organizations in Nepal launched an emergency response, delivering aid to seven of the hardest-hit districts in the country, including Sindhupalchowk. In the weeks and months following the earthquake, we provided emergency food items, drinking water, and established temporary shelters and emergency latrines.

In addition to the soap and hygiene kits distributed to her community, as a new mother Giri received clothes for her baby, blankets, menstrual pads, a petticoat, and a traditional Nepali blouse known as a cholo.

In the fall of 2015, Oxfam rehabilitated the water supply system near her home, part of a long-term approach to helping the community come back stronger than before the disaster. One year after the earthquake, we had built more than 7,200 latrines and repaired 159 water systems.

 “I cannot even imagine myself living here if the tap had not been rehabilitated,” Giri, now 27, says. “As the mother of a small child, it would have been impossible to fetch the water myself.”

Now she and her family have clean, safe drinking water. Giri is happy she doesn’t have to worry about Rajesh and Aukit getting waterborne diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhea.

What's her life like today?

Muna Tamang Giri tends to her garden. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Oxfam

The quality of life for Giri and her family has improved significantly. Now she has a garden, where she can grow her own food. Before Oxfam installed the tap stand, Giri says growing vegetables was unimaginable. “To see what a garlic plant looks like, we would have had to go to Kathmandu,” she says.

Now, she uses the tap water to irrigate her garden. “We don’t need to buy vegetables now. We grow our own garlic, onions, and vegetables—tomatoes, too.”

As for Rajesh, Giri’s earthquake baby, he turns three this month—happy, healthy, and with a brighter future.

Despite government assistance and support from aid organizations like Oxfam, many people are still struggling to find work, and those who have work report incomes that are below what they earned before the earthquakes. We are committed to helping the people of Nepal not just rebuild, but build better lives for themselves.

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